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Zimbabwe gain respectability, but Bulawayo Test likely to end in draw

The remarkable Andy Flower hit yet another fifty as Zimbabwe declared their innings closed at 419 against South Africa just before the close of the third day at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo. However, only some unusually good or bad play by one of the teams can bring about a result in this match on a benign pitch.

Play began 30 minutes early in an effort to make up for lost time after the complete washout of the second day's play. The weather was still overcast but at least the strong frigid wind had gone; by lunchtime the sky was finally clear again. Hamilton Masakadza and Stuart Carlisle, the batsmen in possession, played positively from the start. Masakadza had just hooked Nel superbly for four when he drove at a leg-cutter from the same bowler, to be caught at the wicket by Mark Boucher for 13.

Flower began as if he had been batting all week - which he virtually had - taking just eight balls to reach double figures. It took over an hour before Claude Henderson was given a belated bowl, and immediately he got the ball to turn sharply. Carlisle, struggling against the spin, became almost a sleeping partner, contributing only 12 runs when the fifty partnership came up, as Flower again held court. He scored mainly through well-judged pushes and nudges through gaps in the field, but when South Africa finally decided to bowl very straight at him, as he entered the forties, they managed to restrict his scoring temporarily.

Yet another fifty, his 12th in his last 15 innings, came off 79 balls. One unusual aspect of it was his faulty running between wickets, normally very good, but in this session he had four narrow escapes, the third only because Mark Boucher dropped the ball as he swept the bails off.

Flower fell soon after lunch for 67 in uncharacteristic fashion: he quite misjudged a ball from Henderson that kicked viciously off the pitch, and lobbed up off the glove to give silly mid-off the easiest of catches. Zimbabwe were 261 for four.

Grant Flower, with several unsuccessful Tests behind him, obviously decided that there was nothing to lose by being positive, and was soon catching up Carlisle, who occasionally surprised with a sparkling stroke, such as a swept six off Henderson when he was 40. Then came a mix-up in mid-pitch, which resulted in Flower (44) slipping and failing to beat the throw from Jacques Kallis; 327 for five.

Carlisle failed to reach his fifty, adjudged lbw to Pollock for 49 off 201 balls, although the camera seemed to reveal a thin inside edge. Although the slow pitch and the now heavy outfield made scoring difficult, his innings was slower than Zimbabwe would have liked, with time at a premium.

Heath Streak scored a single off his first 24 balls before he suddenly hammered Henderson for six into the top of the sightscreen. Guy Whittall on 8 appeared to be brilliantly caught by Pollock at slip of Henderson, but umpire John Hampshire called for decision by camera, which was inconclusive, leading to a decision of "not out". Streak went on to record a powerful 31 before skying Henderson into the off-side field. Without addition Whittall (16), who never really settled, was caught attempting a reverse sweep at Henderson; Zimbabwe 377 for eight.

Paul Strang hit brightly on his return to Test cricket, mainly through pulling the short balls, and the 400 came up in the 176th over. Shaun Pollock moved a ball back in to bowl Travis Friend (4), the first batsman of the innings to fail to reach double figures. Streak declared shortly afterwards with Zimbabwe 419 for nine; Strang was unbeaten with 38 off 28 balls, with two sixes and four fours. Henderson bowled 66 overs in the innings, a record against Zimbabwe, including an unbroken spell of 38 overs at one stage, conceding 143 runs (29 off his last three overs) and taking four wickets.

The South African openers found little difficulty in the Zimbabwean pace attack, and after seven overs Streak brought on Strang, and then Raymond Price. Price came very close to dismissing Gary Kirsten lbw, but the batsmen held out until the close, when Herschelle Gibbs had 15 and Kirsten 11.