September 15, 2000

Zimbabwe top order stumble to leave first Test against New Zealand delicately poised

Some superb cricket from New Zealand on the fourth day has put them in a position potentially to beat Zimbabwe on the final day. First of all a fine ninth-wicket partnership between Adam Parore and the injured Daniel Vettori helped take them to within 12 runs of the Zimbabwe total, then a fine all-round effort in the field reduced Zimbabwe to 100 for five at the close, a lead of just 88 runs, even without the spin of Vettori.

In the morning Zimbabwe struck before New Zealand had moved off their overnight score of 252 for seven, as an off-cutter from Streak bowled Cairns (33) through the gate. Vettori, nursing a back injury that may end his tour, came in with a runner, and it was a serious blow for the tourists that he was unable to bowl. He and Parore held off the best that Zimbabwe could throw at them with some calm, confident batting, waiting for the right ball and placing it appropriately, while the Zimbabwe attack was no more than steady.

Vettori, the more aggressive of the two, was disappointed to miss his fifty by just one run; like others, he appeared to misread Paul Strang's googly, and a leading edge playing back spooned a gentle low return catch, and then O'Connor (4) edged a ball to be caught by Campbell at slip. New Zealand were all out for 338, a deficit of just 12 runs. Parore was unbeaten on 32, while Strang took eight wickets, easily beating Zimbabwe's previous best innings figures of six for 87 by Streak in the Lord's Test against England this year.

When Zimbabwe batted again, Cairns soon bowled Rennie (2) with a ball from wide on the crease that went through the gate; 6 for one. Then came a brief intriguing battle between Cairns and Carlisle, the former overdoing the aggression and the latter responding with some powerful shots, including a remarkable flat-batted six swatted over cover. The more gentle spin of Wiseman did the trick instead, as Carlisle (15) leapt down the pitch to be bowled through the gate; 23 for two. Without addition Grant Flower, still on 3, snicked O'Connor to Parore and Zimbabwe suddenly found themselves in grave danger of losing the match.

The situation might have worsened when Andy Flower, on 6, cut O'Connor fiercely straight to gully, but McMillan could not hold the catch. After tea Flower and Campbell shared a fighting partnership, although surviving a couple of close umpiring calls. Just as it was developing, though, Flower was trapped in front of his stumps by Astle for 22 and Zimbabwe were 75 for four. Wishart (1) had a most uncomfortable time before being caught at short leg by Richardson off Wiseman; 86 for five. At the close Campbell was on 45 and looking very safe, while Streak held firm with great determination for 5 not out.