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At Harare Sports Club, Harare, December 26, 27, 28, 29, 30. Drawn. Toss: Zimbabwe.
Torrential overnight rain and incomplete covering prevented any play on the last day, which might have produced a finish every bit as exciting as the one in Bulawayo a week earlier. England, 136 ahead with seven wickets in hand, seemed more likely to dictate terms; but talk of setting a target of 230 off 60 overs became irrelevant and this first, brief, series between the two countries ended 0-0.
Thoughts of an England win appeared ridiculous after inept first-day batting. A slow pitch (and painfully slow outfield) demanded careful shot selection and plenty of patience, but England demonstrated neither: they plummeted to 137 for nine before bad light halted play an hour early. Knight could be considered a little unlucky, glancing a catch down the leg side; Crawley showed what was possible; the rest surrendered to a succession of rash strokes, with medium-pacer Guy Whittall benefiting to the remarkable tune of 13-5-12-4.
The first real sign of danger came when Stewart drove loosely at Streak. Campbell dropped him in the slips, but a clear warning was ignored. Next over, Whittall's second, Atherton tried something similar without similar without getting into position and, this time, Campbell made no mistake. Stewart followed without addition, edging Streak again, Thorpe clipped to short square leg and Hussain soon became Streak's third victim with another reckless drive. White, who had just flown in after a successful A tour of Australia and was picked ahead of Silverwood, snicked a half-volley, Croft fell in almost identical circumstances, Gough swung fatally across the line and Mullally prodded a slow off-break straight back to the delighted Whittall.
A further 19 runs on the second morning prevented England from recording the lowest Test total against Zimbabwe but did not begin to repair the damage, which looked more serious still when the home side reached 110 for two on the third afternoon. They had lost Dekker, recalled to replace Carlisle, with only five on the board and Campbell to an injudicious cut, but Grant Flower- perfectly suited to execute a no-risks policy - and Houghton, stifling his attacking instincts, added 64 in 38 overs. With only four balls after tea on the second day because of rain and two hours lost the following morning through a wet outfield, it took them longer than they wanted, but England seemed certain to face a substantial first-innings deficit. In fact, thanks mainly to Gough's swing bowling, it was just 59. He picked up four wickets for 27 during 15 top-quality overs, before, Croft polished off the tail. Without an intelligently aggressive innings from Paul Strang, Zimbabwe would have struggled to reach 200.
England could not help but improve on their first effort. The signs were not too promising, however, when Atherton missed out again (he had now scored 153 in 11 tour innings), edging his third delivery. Strang, who was again impressive, then deceived Knight and Hussain with leg-breaks to leave Surrey colleagues Stewart and Thorpe under severe pressure, only 30 ahead. Neither wilted this time. Stewart, despite offering a half chance to short leg on 15, thoroughly earned his ninth Test century, which he reached in just over six hours. It was his first as a wicket-keeper/batsman and he ended 1996 as the world's leading Test run-maker for the year, with 793 runs, despite being dropped for one game in June. He should have received the match award, but somehow it found its way into Grant Flower's hands for a six-hour 73. Thorpe, completely out of touch before this innings, matched Stewart's determination and their undefeated stand of 106 deserved to set up something much better than a lunchtime abandonment.
Man of the Match: G. W. Flower.
Close of play: First day, England 137-9 (J. P. Crawley 37*, P. C. R. Tufnell 0*); Second day, Zimbabwe 93-2 (G. W. Flower 33*, D. L. Houghton 26*); Third day, England 17-1 (N. V. Knight 6*, A. J. Stewart 10*); Fourth day, England 195-3 (A. J. Stewart 101*, G. P. Thorpe 50*).
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