Zimbabwe undone by nonexistent pitch demons
No matter how many times some parents try to convince their children that being in the dark is nothing to fear, some kids will still believe, at night, there is a bogeyman under the bed. On Sunday, those children were most of the Zimbabwe batsmen, who had spooked themselves into thinking they would not be able to survive spin on a pitch that was starting to deteriorate.
The Bulawayo surface had not become a dust bowl, a crumbling pit of chaos or even an antique porcelain teacup riddled with cracks. It had just become slower, started to assist the spinners a little bit, and so was a touch more difficult to bat on. Difficult, but not impossible.
Zimbabwe approached the task as though they to walk barefoot on coals for miles. They were uncertain and pained for most of their innings, stepping gingerly when they could have walked, if not confidently, at least competently.
Their hesitation jump-started this Test, after three days of cruising at unexciting speed. It was Ray Price, one of their own, who might have planted the seed of doubt. After the third day's play Price was convinced the match would not be drawn because the pitch would not allow batsmen to plant roots that would require a bulldozer to remove. Ever the optimist, Price made those statements to reassure home fans that Pakistan would not be able to bat Zimbabwe out of the match.
Instead, Zimbabwe virtually eliminated the element of contest by imploding spectacularly in their second innings, after Pakistan had taken a lead of 54. Not for the first time in cricket, the mind proved stronger than the bat.
Vusi Sibanda was the first to go, after pulling irrespective of the length. It's a weakness Sibanda is trying to overcome, although he admitted that he could not remove the shot from his repertoire because it brings him runs. In a situation where taking substantial lead should have been his highest priority, Sibanda should have handled the pull with more caution.
Tino Mawoyo had struggled against Saeed Ajmal's doosra for more than ten hours in the first innings, and while he was looking for the wrong 'un in the second, he was bowled by the offbreak. His mistake was to be over cautious on one side and leaving himself vulnerable on the other.
With the two disappointments of the first innings, Hamilton Masakadza and Brendan Taylor, at the crease Pakistan were at their most enthusiastic. Younis Khan chipped in with one-liners. "Target the captain," he said "He'll do something different here."
The Zimbabweans fell when they played shots, like Taylor, but also when they didn't, like Masakadza and Craig Ervine, and after tea they were effectively 15 for 8. "It was a combination of good bowling on a tight wicket, along with some poor batting, shot selection and poor mindset as well," Zimbabwe captain Brendan Taylor said. "We needed to be mentally tough and we weren't. Technically we weren't quite good enough either, even though we knew that against Ajmal and [Mohammad] Hafeez it was always going to be difficult."
Taibu was the only one who gave Zimbabwe slim hope, remaining unbeaten on 58. "It was a good thing to see Tatenda take majority of the strike and just consolidate a little bit," Taylor said. "It's good that we are fighting back a little."
Taibu's accomplice, Kyle Jarvis, was an unlikely ally but the effort he put in at the nets on the first two days paid off. Jarvis had Grant Flower giving him throw downs for extended periods on the first two days to develop his batting.
Both Jarvis and Taibu lacked eloquence, offered chances that were put down and struggled against spin and reverse swing. They showed that the pitch, though tricky, was not unplayable and, with some application, runs could be scored. Stumps arrived for them like morning does to the terrified child, who can now see that there is no monster. Tomorrow Taibu and Jarvis will have to do it all over again to lead Zimbabwe to safety.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent