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West Indies set tough task to win Test

Zimbabwe continued their fightback on a freezing day in Harare under increasingly overcast skies with a steady Antarctic wind blowing. They recorded their highest ever Test Match total before declaring to set West Indies 348 to win.

Coincidentally, this is exactly the highest fourth-innings score West Indies have ever made to win a Test, which they did by five wickets against New Zealand in 1968/69. When bad light ended play early, West Indies had scored 42 for one, leaving the prospect of an interesting finish on the final day, weather permitting.

Zimbabwe began the day 108 runs ahead of West Indies in their second innings with six wickets in hand. Hamilton Masakadza added only four runs to his overnight 115 in almost half an hour before driving a tame catch to short extra cover off Neil McGarrell. His innings of 119 is the highest by any player under the age of 18 in Test cricket.

Zimbabwe took a while to adopt the positive approach that had served them so well the previous day, but Grant Flower and Heath Streak were just beginning to take control when Flower (14) cut Reon King, who had bowled raggedly, low to backward point where Shivnarine Chanderpaul took a fine diving catch.

Streak played a responsible innings, hitting the loose ball well and depositing McGarrell over mid-wicket for a six. With Andy Blignaut generally restraining himself so as to support Streak, until he hammered three boundaries off Marlon Black in the last over before the interval, Zimbabwe passed 400.

A classical cover-driven boundary off Colin Stuart took Streak to his fifty soon after lunch. Blignaut passed his previous Test highest of 35 and then hit a six over long-on to reach his fifty off 79 balls. He then tried a reverse sweep, to be caught by the 'keeper apparently off the glove, but was given not out by umpire Kevan Barbour.

Blignaut overtook the more responsible Streak, but he too generally showed good shot selection. Just before the 500 came up, the two all-rounders broke the previous seventh-wicket record of 131 by Grant Flower and Paul Strang in Pakistan in 1996/97. The pitch was still good and the West Indian bowlers did not show the skill necessary to break through against quality batting.

Finally Blignaut, perhaps unnerved by his approaching century, swung wildly across the line at Stuart, to be bowled for 92 off 118 balls, after a partnership of 154 with his captain. Zimbabwe were then 521 for seven. Streak had a narrow escape when a mistimed drive just cleared mid-off, while Tatenda Taibu hit 10 off nine balls before being yorked by Stuart.

Soon after tea Zimbabwe passed their previous highest Test total of 544 for four declared, against Pakistan on this ground in their first-ever Test match victory in 1994/95. Then, when Bryan Strang lobbed a catch to mid-wicket off McGarrell for 11, Streak declared at 563 for nine, with his personal score on 79. West Indies were left to make 348 to win, a scenario they could never have envisaged two days earlier. It was not an impossible task on a good pitch, but their morale in the field appeared low and they will need to lift themselves considerably now to save the match.

The injured Daren Ganga bravely came out to open the West Indian innings and guided the first ball past gully for four. The light, though, continued to deteriorate under the heavily overcast sky, causing concern to Zimbabwe. Chris Gayle showed the umpires he was having no problems with visibility, as he hit two superb successive fours off Blignaut, a drive through extra cover and a cut. Ganga added only a single to have five when he tried to turn Streak to leg and skied a catch.

Ramnaresh Sarwan came in for Chanderpaul, who hurt a hand in the field. The Zimbabwe bowling was steady rather than threatening. With nine overs still to be bowled, bad light brought an early end to play, with West Indies 42 for one (Gayle 17, Sarwan 11).