May 12, 2003

Kabir snatches a tie as Zimbabwe falter at the last

Miracles are badly needed by Zimbabweans in general, but even a small one was denied to their cricket team today, as Kabir Ali snatched a tie for Worcestershire with two wickets in three balls with the scores level.

Chasing 176 to win, the Zimbabweans had appeared out of the hunt at 55 for 5, but fighting innings by Andy Blignaut and Heath Streak, aided by dour but valuable efforts from Grant Flower and Raymond Price, enabled them to claw their way back into the match, only for Kabir to turn the tables again.

It had been a bold fightback from Zimbabwe, who suffered a dreadful start on an even worse pitch. Mark Vermeulen was caught-behind for 0 off the left-arm seam of Mark Harrity, and when Dion Ebrahim edged Kabir to second slip, the Zimbabweans were in trouble at 20 for 2.

Stuart Carlisle and Flower responded positively to the crisis, but it was far from easy - the slowness of the outfield denying them full value for their shots. Carlisle looked the more confident, but he fell for 23, caught behind off a lifter from Kabir, who followed up with a superb yorker that bowled Barney Rogers all ends up. At 43 for 4, Zimbabwe were facing an ignominious defeat. The players must have longed for the likes of Andy Flower, and also for Craig Wishart and Gavin Rennie, two experienced batsmen controversially omitted from the touring party.

Tatenda Taibu stuck around for a while for 8 before being given out caught behind off Andrew Hall, the ball moving in sharply and being adjudged to have taken the inside edge. Blignaut, after an uncertain start, stuck around with the obdurate Flower and survived until lunch.

Two powerfully driven boundaries from Blignaut in the first over after the interval, off Kabir, gave the beleaguered Zimbabweans some hope. In the next over he stepped back and cut a ball that bounced off Pipe's gloves and went for four. It proved to be a crucial miss.

Blignaut continued to attack, running up to 42 in good time, and briefly threatened to run away with the match. Then Worcestershire's captain Ben Smith turned to the offspin of Gareth Batty. Blignaut lofted him to the long-on boundary, but then tried to sweep and the ball lobbed out to cover for a catch off the top edge. Zimbabwe were 119 for 6, but Flower was still there with 21.

Flower proceeded to 26 before he unwisely tried to loft Batty over midwicket and paid the price. This brought in Streak with Taibu as a runner; he had not been expected to bat, as a safety measure, but the tight situation lured him out in a vain gesture. He immediately lost Travis Friend, bowled for 4 by a quicker ball from Batty. The Zimbabweans appeared to be on their way out at 128 for 8, 48 still needed.

Streak and Price were determined not to give it away, but they had little to offer by way of strokes. Finally Streak began to find his touch, and Matt Mason went for two fours, a pull and a cover drive, in successive deliveries to take Zimbabwe past 150. While Price kept an end up with superb concentration and determination, Streak waited for the right ball to hit and did so effectively.

Both batsmen played and missed at times, inevitable on such a pitch, but they hung on with nerves well in check. A scoop by Streak levelled the scores, but the last run was so long on coming that Streak unwisely tried to nudge a ball from Kabir to third man and was caught at third slip. Hondo survived one ball, shouldered arms to the next, and had his stumps knocked back to secure a tie. At the last gasp, Kabir had snatched the match back for Worcestershire, finishing with figures of 5 for 48.

The hospitality of the Worcestershire club was outstanding, except for one small detail. The pitch was a major disappointment and visiting teams have a right to expect better.