November 11, 2002

Pakistan set for victory in Harare Test

Pakistan, barring an unexpected intervention from the weather, are practically certain to win the first Test match against Zimbabwe at the Harare Sports Club, thanks to contrasting centuries by Inzamam-ul-Haq and Taufeeq Umer against inept Zimbabwean bowling. Zimbabwe, needing 420 to win, finished with 19 for one.

Zimbabwe began the day with hopes that history might repeat itself and a similar victory from behind as that at Peshawar in 1998/99 might be possible. Henry Olonga, a hero on that occasion, soon bowled a lifting ball that struck Younis Khan (8) painfully on the fingers and flew to Alistair Campbell in the slips, reducing Pakistan to 25 for two. Then Inzamam got off the mark with a snick that flew just over the head of Andy Flower at first slip and went to the boundary. Had it been just a little lower, the story of the day's play might have been very different.

But that was Zimbabwe's last sniff, and they had only themselves to blame as they surrendered the match in the pre-lunch session. Olonga never put it together consistently, and at one stage bounced a ball so high over the heads of batsman Inzamam and wicket-keeper Tatenda Taibu that it went for a total of five wides. His partners at the other end were no more efficient, and short medium-fast deliveries outside off stump are meat and drink to Inzamam. He enjoyed a feast of boundaries and his fifty came up off 53 balls, containing no fewer than 12 fours. When he reached 32 he became only the second Pakistani, after the legendary Javed Miandad, to reach 6,000 runs in Test cricket. The television suggested, though, that he was perhaps lucky to survive an lbw appeal when on 40 to Raymond Price as soon as he came on to bowl, umpire Dave Orchard disagreeing.

Zimbabwe's economic disasters have not destroyed the generous nature of her people, and Pakistan were so grateful for the vast number of four-balls on offer that the hundred came up in the 19th over. Zimbabwe's fielding became rather ragged, and in the last over before lunch Inzamam joined the select band who have scored a century before lunch in a Test match, although it was an extended session due to time lost on the second day. It took him 102 balls and 138 minutes. All credit to Pakistan; they were given their chances and took them superbly.

After lunch the contest briefly became keen again. Inzamam hammered Olonga for two more fours and then smashed a ball straight to Grant Flower at backward point. He departed reluctantly, perhaps sensing another triple-century wasted. Yousuf Youhana uncharacteristically hung his bat out to be caught at the wicket off Andy Blignaut without scoring, and suddenly, briefly, Zimbabwe threatened again. Taufeeq became becalmed, while Hasan Raza took a long time to get going. But slowly they put Pakistan back on top, and after Raza departed to a catch at mid-off the debutant Kamran Akmal, after a slow start, hit some impressive blows.

Taufeeq crawled towards his century, moving from 70 at lunch to 97 at tea, 27 off 83 balls. A misfield by Price allowed him to reach three figures off 197 deliveries, in five hours. He finally fell for 115, caught down the leg side off Blignaut and walking without waiting for the apparently indecisive umpire Orchard. Kamran had already been bowled by Price and now Blignaut bowled Waqar Younis.

Pakistan were 318 for eight, to add to their lead of 60 on first innings. Then came a period of village green cricket, as tail-enders Saqlain Mushtaq and Shoaib Akhtar tried to indulge in some spectacular baseball or agricultural strokes against the second new ball, taken by Blignaut and Olonga, neither of whom seemed able to put the ball on the wicket or produce the leg-stump yorker that would almost certainly have ended the slog. Zimbabwe seemed to have lost all purpose, and the last two wickets were allowed to add 51. Olonga finished with five wickets, but one cannot say he was impressive.

Zimbabwe, batting just before the close until bad light again curtailed play, soon lost Hamilton Masakadza (0), superbly caught by short leg Saleem Elahi off Shoaib Akhtar. Dion Ebrahim and Alistair Campbell at least survived with sensible positive play until the close.