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Tony Cozier and John Ward
At Harare, November 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 2003. Drawn. Toss: Zimbabwe. Test debuts: S. Matsikenyeri, V. Sibanda.
Against all expectations, Zimbabwe dominated an enthralling match to end a run of 11 consecutive Test defeats, and came heartbreakingly close to their first victory over a senior Test team since June 2001. It took a gallant last-wicket partnership between Jacobs and the inexperienced Edwards to save West Indies from humiliation: they safely played out the final 32 minutes and 71 deliveries.
Despite missing three senior players through injury - Grant Flower, Ervine and Hondo - Zimbabwe, who included two 20-year-old debutant batsmen, Vusimuzi Sibanda and Stuart Matsikenyeri, looked a far more organised side than the greenhorns who had performed so poorly in England. They were fortunate to win the toss, enabling them to take advantage of hot weather and an excellent batting pitch. But their top five fell for 154, mainly through lack of application against undisciplined bowling, before Taibu started a recovery with his former schoolmate, Matsikenyeri. Taibu was distraught to be dismissed for 83 but Streak carried on with a very correct and determined maiden Test century, in his 56th Test, a record. He added 168 with Blignaut, an eighth-wicket record for Zimbabwe, to ensure their ascendancy, even though West Indies were now bowling much better. Edwards, a "slinger" with deceptive pace and bounce, was the most impressive. Blignaut too just missed his century, brilliantly caught for 91, but Streak was able to declare at 507.
A freak incident delayed the start on the third day. As the pitch was being rolled, players were practising on the outfield; Gripper hit a ball right under the roller which left a deep indentation just short of a fast bowler's length to a left-hander. An auger was borrowed from the neighbouring golf club to replace the turf, play started one and a half hours late, and referee Gundappa Viswanath postponed lunch to allow a twohour session. Lara earned widespread commendation for his positive approach and willingness to bat on the patched-up pitch. In the event, there were no problems and West Indies passed 200 with only three men out, but three quick wickets after tea swung the match further Zimbabwe's way. West Indies saved the follow-on with eight wickets down on the fourth morning before left-arm spinner Price completed figures of six for 73, the second-best recorded for his country.
Zimbabwe led by 172, but were unconvincing as they attempted to build towards a declaration. At the start of the final day, they were four down for 94, a lead of 266. When Wishart, who had looked in commanding form, fell early on, they might have promoted the hard-hitting Blignaut or Streak himself, but they decided to play safe, sending in Taibu as planned.
West Indies' eventual target was 373 in 83 overs, a difficult one made with the Lara factor in mind. He, however, had only a single to his credit when he was given lbw, not totally satisfactorily, to Streak, leaving his side reeling at 38 for three. After that, only one team could win.
The middle order, Jacobs included, played rather too freely for batsmen whose objective was saving the game. But only Streak and Price looked threatening with the ball, until Blignaut, who had been innocuous, suddenly produced an inspired spell, opening up the lower order and apparently propelling Zimbabwe towards victory. Price followed up with his tenth wicket of the match, but he was tiring and, when deteriorating light forced Streak to remove Blignaut, the last pair were able to play out the spin of Price and Gripper in the gloaming.
Man of the Match: H. H. Streak.