First Test Match

ZIMBABWE v ENGLAND

A gently smouldering match suddenly burst into full flame on the last afternoon when England were left to chase 205 from 37 overs. Often up with the rate but never sufficiently ahead to feel comfortable, they eventually needed three from Streak's final delivery. Knight managed two and this inaugural Test between the two countries earned another place in history: it was the first Test to be drawn with the scores level. Such excitement had seemed unlikely during the first four days, on a slow-turning pitch where both runs and wickets needed chiselling out. Zimbabwe won a useful toss, England swiftly hit back when Gough had Carlisle caught at short leg with his third delivery, and so it continued. First one side then the other put their noses in front, but neither could create a decisive advantage.

Zimbabwe's most commanding phase occurred while Grant Flower and Campbell were adding 127 in 145 minutes in the face of undemanding and often inaccurate bowling. Atherton treated his attack to a few home truths during lunch and the message got through. Silverwood, earning his first cap because of Caddick's unpromising form and Irani's back injury, launched the recovery when he had Flower well caught by the diving Hussain at third slip. Then Croft took charge. He had Campbell, 16 short of a maiden Test century, held off a sliced drive, but his best bowling followed tea, when he had a spell of 12-6-7-2, a performance of craft and control. With the new ball having accounted for Whittall before the close, England hoped to dismiss Zimbabwe for around 300. Instead, Andy Flower dug in to score a hundred and it took another three hours to wrap up the innings, which crept towards 400.

Atherton had broken Peter May's record by leading England in 36 consecutive Tests, but he continued to struggle for runs; he was hit in front of his wicket when playing back to leg-spinner Paul Strang's 11th ball, the last before tea. Heavy rain wiped out the evening session, but the third day belonged to England. Initially, they were in trouble, with Knight missing a slow in-swinger from Olonga, Stewart losing a poor lbw decision and a horribly out-of-touch Thorpe charging out and being held at slip. Hussain and Crawley more than redressed the balance, however, and England were sitting pretty on 306 for four by the close. Hussain had survived a sharp chance, first ball, to Carlisle at short leg off Strang but, thereafter, advanced smoothly to his third century in six Tests, reaching it (in a shade over five hours) just before the close.

Now England hoped for a decisive lead. But it started to go wrong next morning, from the moment Hussain hooked Streak, and Bryan Strang stuck up a hand to hold a remarkable boundary catch, ending a stand of 148. England's suspect lower order failed to support Crawley and he was still ten short of his second century in consecutive Tests when joined by last man Tufnell. Had wicket-keeper Andy Flower held the chance Tufnell offered, Crawley would have been stranded on 96. Instead, they stole a single and Crawley pulled the next ball for six. He finally fell to Paul Strang who was good value for his five wickets. England's lead of 30 looked inconsequential but, by close of play, they entertained real hopes of victory: Zimbabwe were five down and only 77 ahead. Tufnell had already taken two and soon struck on the final morning as Bryan Strang slogged to mid-on. Once again, the tail showed it was made of stern stuff; it took England another 53 overs to capture the last four wickets.

And so the thrilling finale was set up. Atherton again departed quickly but Knight and, particularly, Stewart, who passed 4,000 Test runs as he scored 73 off 76 balls, gave the run-chase real impetus against increasingly negative bowling and far-flung fields. Stewart's exit, to a miscued pull, when England needed 51 from eight overs, was probably crucial. Three more wickets swiftly followed. Knight, though, brought fresh hope with a glorious square-leg six in Streak's final over and five runs were wanted from three deliveries. The next ball might have been called as a wide by the Zimbabwe umpire Robinson, whose decision-making was questioned several times. There was no signal, however, and Knight could not find the boundary again. Referee Hanumant Singh busied himself during and after the contest, reprimanding England for the manner of their appealing, investigating but taking no action over coach David Lloyd's "we flippin' murdered them" outburst, and fining Streak 15 per cent of his match fee for inferred criticism of the umpires; Streak had said he was lucky not to have been called wide in that last over.

Man of the Match: N. V. Knight.

Close of play: First day, Zimbabwe 256-6 (A. Flower 58*, P. A. Strang 0*); Second day, England 48-1 (N. V. Knight 29*); Third day, England 306-4 (N. Hussain 101*, J. P. Crawley 51*); Fourth day, Zimbabwe 107-5 (A. C. Waller 14*, B. C. Strang 0*).

© John Wisden & Co