Zimbabwe v Pakistan, 1st Test, Harare, 1st day September 3, 2013

Hamilton Masakadza leads by example in emergency role

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

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 correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • tupee on September 4, 2013, 10:18 GMT

    @Gokula and others although l might share the same sentiments with you that the best batsman should be in the middle order the same thing we did with And Flower later in his career. The problem Zimbabwe has is that there is no one else to play up the order otherwise he will still play that new ball even if you put him at 5. Moreover he is more comfortable with the ball coming at the bat (pace) than he is with spin something opponents can exploit if he come in late.

  • ZCF on September 4, 2013, 7:58 GMT

    On that point it's worth mentioning that I've always been a strong advocate for Vusi as a middle order batsman. His elegance&ability need not be sacrificed against fresh, dangerous new ball bowlers. We have Matsikenyeri&Vermeulen who are both elegant enough as perfect foils to Mawoyo but of less value than Vusi's wicket.

    Right now our middle order has Raza&Malcolm(or Maruma), options we can do without if the right players were selected. Some cry about the absence of Williams&Craig Ervine, but our best players for the middle order ARE in the team, just higher than they should be.

    We can absorb Taylor's blunders behind the wicket through our shuffled batting order: Mawoyo,Vermeulen,Matsi,Hami(c),Vusi,Taylor(wk),Elton,Utseya, Shingi,Panyangara,Chatara.

    I know Boycott argues that your best batsmen must bat 1-3 as a slight to Clarke, but the personnel needs to be right. Michael Hussey&AB de Villiers couldn't cut it as openers but have been excellent from the middle. Vusi is similar.

  • Hakimuddin T on September 4, 2013, 7:55 GMT

    It is great to see Zimbabwe compete and not just show up even in Test matches. World cricket needs Zimbabwe cricket in healthy state and such strong performances can only mean good things. Hope they build on it.

  • ZCF on September 4, 2013, 7:44 GMT

    @Gokula, you sir are very observant. Vusi Sibanda is a gem. Since 2011, in Tests he's averaged more than Sehwag, Guptil, Rudolph, Hughes&Watson; while in ODIs, guys likes Graeme Smith, Warner, Gayle, Hafeez, Rohit Sharma & Tharanga are all behind him. That's not to say he's a better batsman than some of those guys, but by putting him in the same sentence as those middle order greats yourself, you did not mean he is comparable to them either.

    He has the best technique in our side, all the more reason why in that time Hami&Taylor have poor ODI records in that opener role compared to him. For me it follows then that Vusi would average 5-15 runs more than our current middle order batsmen(Hami, Taylor, Williams&Malcolm) if he was deployed there. He has something they don't - ability to deal with the second new ball after building a decent score before that.

    All of our players are weak against spin so it's a moot point that he can't bat from the middle.

  • Dummy4 on September 4, 2013, 5:32 GMT

    chigumbura should bat up the order ..sibanda should bat in middle order instead of opening bcos best batsman in the team should bat in middle order not to open...all world team can follow this scenario always misbah (pak) dhoni(india) pietersen(eng) clarke(aus) jayawardne(sl) taylor(nz) ...

  • Arvind on September 4, 2013, 4:35 GMT

    They had a good chance to bowl out Pakistan for below 200, but blew it away by getting overconfident. Now they have got 249 runs, which is sufficient to win this match,

  • suresh on September 4, 2013, 2:58 GMT

    he batted well in t20 and odi's, and now in tests leads by example

  • Andrew on September 3, 2013, 18:58 GMT

    Hami, I owe you an apology. I thought you had blundered by putting them in. I thought you were scared of batting first, and I thought we did not have the fire power to take wickets. I thought they would be at 350/3 by the end of the day. But, I was wrong, I am glad to say. Now, please do as well with the bat!

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