July 21, 2001

Zimbabwe openers defiant against West Indies in face of huge deficit

West Indies met with unexpected resistance in the final session of the third day against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo, when the home team's openers put on 112 together without loss. However, they were still 292 behind and it will take a massive team performance to make West Indies bat again, let alone avoid defeat in the final two days.

Zimbabwe made their own bad luck on the first day; on the second day the breaks did not go their way - except for the one to Stuart Carlisle's finger. He broke it in the field and will therefore be out of the rest of the series. Their misfortunes continued early on when a good-looking lbw appeal by Bryan Strang against Ramnaresh Sarwan, then on 48, was rejected. This was shortly after Carl Hooper cut Andy Blignaut for four to bring up 400 for West Indies.

But again it was a matter of making their own luck, as two chances were missed and the team's attitude was one of resignation rather than anguish.

Sarwan, perhaps in sympathy, cut Strang to backward point when on 58, making the score 420 for four after a partnership of 131. Marlon Samuels was content to play second fiddle, while occasionally playing an exquisite stroke of his own, while Hooper progressed to his century, which came off 143 balls. It was his tenth in Tests, and his first since his return to the game.

Another four through the covers by Hooper brought up the highest team total in the ten Tests (four this season) played on this ground to date, overtaking Zimbabwe's 462 for nine declared (Dave Houghton 266) against Sri Lanka in the ground's first Test match in 1994/95.

Zimbabwe seemed unable to reproduce their sterling, if unrewarded, efforts of the second day, with some ragged bowling being served up and the fielding uninspired.

Hooper seemed almost to toy with the spinners now, driving and sweeping with ease and at times displaying remarkable footwork to attack. The first 500 to be recorded on the ground came up very soon after lunch, as West Indies batted on, taking full advantage of ideal batting practice on a perfect pitch against a dispirited attack in mild but sunny weather with plenty of time in hand.

Samuels, though, was perhaps a little too confident, as he swept at left-armer Raymond Price, bowling over the wicket, and was bowled behind his legs for 42 after a partnership of exactly 100 with his captain. Hooper (149) fell shortly afterwards, trying to dab Strang for a single to reach his next landmark but was well picked up off the edge by wicket-keeper Tatenda Taibu standing up, thrilled at his first (allowed) Test catch. Hooper hit 18 fours and a six off 211 balls, and West Indies 538 for six.

The third new ball came but Streak, presumably nursing an injury after bowling only five overs during the day, continued with Price, who had Jacobs missed off a hard chance to slip in his first over. Zimbabwe also felt they had been hard done by with another couple of appeals.

Then finally came the declaration, at 559 for six, second only to India's 609 for six declared at Nagpur earlier this season for totals recorded against Zimbabwe. The lead of 404 was also the highest first-innings lead ever recorded against Zimbabwe, the previous record being 360 by South Africa in Harare in 1999/2000.

Zimbabwe survived six overs until tea, and batted with what, in the context of the match, was surprising confidence afterwards, especially Dion Ebrahim.

When Campbell cut Colin Stuart for two fours in an over, the pair began to take runs freely.

Ebrahim, for once finding the freedom to play his natural game, had a rare piece of good fortune on 40 when dropped at midwicket off Hooper, and that seemed to send him into his shell for a while. Then he broke out again and a quickly-run two took him to his first 50 in 12 international matches, batting in his unaccustomed position as opener.

In the 32nd over Zimbabwe recorded their first century opening partnership for almost three years, when Gavin Rennie and Craig Wishart put on 138 together, a major factor in Zimbabwe's victory over India. Campbell's 50 soon followed.

With the pitch taking spin, both sides used spinners more than before, and there was another noteworthy feat for modern Test cricket when the day's full quota of overs was actually completed early, and three extra overs bowled. Zimbabwe had regained some honour by the close, at 112 without loss, with Ebrahim on 51 and Campbell 58.