Pakistan too strong for battling Zimbabwe
Pakistan won the First Test match against Zimbabwe at Harare Sports Club by 119 runs on the fourth day, but Zimbabwe did lose with honour. Their 310 easily beat their 246 for four to draw against New Zealand in 1995/96 as their highest fourth-innings total in a Test match.
Perhaps Pakistan were initially a little overconfident, and there seemed a relaxed atmosphere over the ground as Zimbabwe resumed on 19 for one, needing 420 to win. It steadily dissipated during the day as the home batsmen made them work very hard for their wickets.
Alistair Campbell, nine not out overnight, began the day with some fluent strokes, but he is not renowned for permanency, and when he had 30 he failed to cover a ball outside off stump from Mohammad Sami and edged a catch to the keeper. This brought in Grant Flower, with Zimbabwe again keeping their best batsman Andy Flower well under cover at number five.
Dion Ebrahim suffered some uncomfortable moments early in the morning, and on 24 was dropped low at third slip off Sami, but he stuck to his task and shared a valuable century partnership with Grant Flower. Runs came freely, as they did for most of the day, with Pakistan maintaining an attacking field and bowling with variable accuracy. The hundred came up in the 21st over.
Once settled, Grant played with more confidence and authority than he has done for several years. He played some especially pleasing drives through the covers, and Zimbabweans will be hoping that he has finally turned the corner again. The Pakistanis were now showing increasing frustration, and the appealing reached unacceptable levels. The stand was broken soon after lunch, when Ebrahim (69) unwisely shouldered arms to a ball from Shoaib that pitched only just outside off stump, but the reserve swing brought it in to hit middle. Zimbabwe were 162 for three.
Grant was to fall for the same score, and also quite unexpectedly. It was an uncharacteristically soft dismissal, the keeper holding a snick from a ball well down the leg side from Saqlain Mushtaq, who bowled for most of the day from the city (south) end. Guy Whittall only made two before he totally misread the ball that went the other way and edged Saqlain to slip, reducing Zimbabwe to 203 for five.
Tatenda Taibu then played another fine, confident innings in the company of Andy Flower, and it seems he has now found his feet with the bat in Test cricket. Starry-eyed optimists were again beginning to talk of Zimbabwe pulling off a surprise victory, which would have meant breaking the world record of 406 for four by India against West Indies in 1975/76, when umpire Venkat's finger of doom struck again. Taibu was sent on his way, lbw for 28 to a ball from Waqar Younis swinging prodigiously down the leg side, and that, at 256 for six, was the end of Zimbabwe's significant resistance.
Blignaut recorded a first-innings fifty by hitting straight; this time his policy was to swing across the line, and he was lucky to make as many as 12 before he miscued a sweep against Saqlain so badly as to be caught in the backward point area. Blessing Mahwire (3) did not last long, but Raymond Price, who finished with 3 not out, hung on gallantly with Andy Flower.
Flower finally fell for 66, trying to pull Shoaib and skying the ball towards midwicket, for the bowler to run round and complete the catch. He was held up by the last pair of Price and Henry Olonga for a while, and had to resort to the second new ball in the end; his second delivery bowled Olonga for five and the match was over.
Saqlain took three for 98 off his 31 overs, while Shoaib returned the best figures of four for 75. He was involved in controversy, though; mutterings about the legality of his action are resurfacing, and he was twice warned by the umpires for alleged ball-tampering.
The second Test starts in Bulawayo on Friday. If Zimbabwe are to have hopes of victory, they will have to find some bowlers who can put pressure on the Pakistani batsmen.