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The uncertainty that prevailed before this Test threatened to drag Zimbabwe down. But Hamilton Masakadza's shrewd moves played no small part in ensuring they were capable of stretching Pakistan
Firdose Moonda in Harare
September 3, 2013
Brendan Taylor only had three hours of sleep last night after spending the day in hospital waiting for his new-born son, Mason, to arrive. He may have had a bit more rest today but the time he would finally have woken up and turned on his television, he could easily have thought he was still dreaming.
The same Zimbabwe who have not managed to bowl a team out in their last ten matches, came closer to doing that than they have in months. The nine wickets they claimed is the most they have taken in a day's play in the last two series and Taylor need not have rubbed his eyes in wonder. It had really happened: there was discipline, determination and drive and the first day of a Test series that was in danger of not even happening went Zimbabwe's way.
As far as troubling build-ups go, this has been one of the most concerning. The week before the Test was filled with uncertainty. Would payments come through? Would the strike really happen? Would the captain be able to take the field to lead his men? With so many unanswered questions, Zimbabwe would have been forgiven if their performance was as scattered as their minds.
But, after Hamilton Masakadza - who found out he was captaining only when he arrived at the ground - took a gamble and decided to bowl first on a pitch that is known to flatten out as the day grows longer, the bowlers responded with clear plans and tight lines, while the fielders showed commitment that has been lacking. They heeded Taylor's call for character.
Tendai Chatara and Tinashe Panyangara opened the bowling with real threat - they swung the ball and beat the bat to show Zimbabwe would not be pushed over. They made up for the absence of the retired Kyle Jarvis with aplomb. They both found extra bounce, which they used to good effect, as the ball reared up for a length. Chatara got the ball to move away even though it often looked as though he would be bringing it in. He got Mohammad Hafeez to edge in that fashion and almost had Misbah-ul-Haq doing the same. With first Panyangara and then Shingi Masakadza keeping a consistent line outside off, Zimbabwe were able to limit run-scoring for much of the first session.
They conceded some control when an uncharacteristically hurried Misbah partnered Azhar Ali with some urgency and Elton Chigumbura bowled two loose overs but the break came soon after to allow for a regroup. What was most impressive about Zimbabwe today was that they actually managed to do that.
Second-session pressure was always going to be their biggest challenge. An older ball, a surface which became easier for batting and arguably Pakistan's best pair at the crease. Hamilton Masakadza gave his strike bowlers ten overs to make something happen and when he could see they were having difficulties, overpitching and allowing Azhar to demonstrate some of his shots, he brought on the spinner, Prosper Utseya and the workhorse, his younger brother.
They allowed only 16 runs in eight overs and the pressure they built paid off. Misbah tried to lash out and was caught at short midwicket and Asad Shafiq fell shortly after. With an opening created, Hamilton Masakadza brought back his strike bowlers at timely intervals when he thought they could have an impact.
Having never captained in a Test match before and having last led four years ago, in 2009, Hamilton Masakadza proved a shrewd leader. His field placings were aggressive, with men close to the bat and in positions where they could stop singles, as he encouraged his team to create pressure through presence. He could not do that all day.
Luckily, he had others to call on. There is a joke that Zimbabwe often captain by committee and there were examples today of how they did. Vusi Sibanda was outstanding in the slips and the outfield. He took three catches and acted as a sounding board for his opening partner. Utseya led the strangle from around the wicket and motivated in the field. And Shingi Masakadza led by example.
He barely erred from his line and was eventually rewarded with two wickets. The only blip on a satisfying day was the way it ended. Desperation and drift set in as the second new ball was called for. Chatara tried the short ball but Saeed Ajmal was quick to read the length.
"If we had been given 250 for 9 at the start of the day, we would have taken it," Hamilton Masakadza said. "I suppose the ninth-wicket partnership went on for a little longer than we would have wanted. I wouldn't say much went wrong at the end: we were a little bit unlucky, a couple of balls went past the edge and we did give one or two balls to Saeed Ajmal to hit, but nothing really went wrong."
He believed he had used his bowlers as best he could and singled out strike bowler Chatara's efforts. "I wanted to make sure they didn't bowl spells that were too long and I was happy to change them around," he said. "Tendai has just come on in leaps and bounds from where he really started for us in the West Indies. He is a good asset for us and promised a lot for our future."
The captain remains confident, as he was at the toss, that the spin threat will be negated by the conditions. "The wicket won't deteriorate that much so hopefully spin won't be too much of a factor."
Zimbabwe will hope, with fresh legs, they can end things quickly in the morning and then will have to demonstrate the same temperament with bat in hand.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
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