April 28, 2001

Zimbabwe build healthy lead against Bangladesh

A mixed performance by Zimbabwe saw them finish the third day with 377 for five wickets, 123 runs ahead of Bangladesh's first-innings total of 254. The morning saw some cavalier strokeplay against some inaccurate bowling, but the loss of too many wickets, and it was left to Grant Flower (84) and Heath Streak (65 not out) to consolidate with a deermined partnership as they had in Bulawayo.

Monjurul Islam pitched each of the first three balls of the day short of a length; Alistair Campbell pulled each one with perfect timing between mid-on and midwicket for four, before cutting the fourth between slips and gully for another boundary. Two runs came off the final ball; in a Test match, have the first four balls of a day's play ever been hit to the boundary before, or 18 runs scored off the opening over? One Bangladeshi correspondent jokingly suggested that this was the result of commentator Ian Botham giving their bowlers some tips the previous day! The difference is that Botham used to get wickets from long hops. Perhaps this exhilarating start persuaded the Zimbabweans that the bowlers were ripe for plunder, but it wasn't that easy.

Bangladesh recovered quickly enough, though, to have Stuart Carlisle caught at short leg off Mohammad Sharif for his overnight 21 in the day's second over. Andy Flower, on his 33rd birthday, came in with the chance to set up a new record of eight consecutive Test fifties, and was dropped at short leg on 3 from a hard chance. He indulged in one or two extravagant strokes early on and did not look as permanent as usual. Bangladesh optimistically kept attacking fields, which assisted the free flow of runs.

Campbell soon reached his fifty, which came off 73 balls altogether; he moved from 22 to the landmark off just 20 balls this morning. Flower missed the world record, though; perhaps overeager to face spinner Naimur Rahman, he charged down the pitch for a quick single despite a brilliant save by Javed Omer, and Campbell appeared a little late in his rejection. Flower was run out for 23.

After drinks Grant Flower decided to join in the rampage, hitting Naimur Rahman for a six, badly missed by a gentleman in the crowd, and a four only inches short of the boundary. Campbell was badly dropped at mid-on on 68, which cooled him down temporarily, before on 73 he swept Naimur to be caught low at midwicket. Heath Streak appeared to approach the task with greater determination, while Flower dropped straight back into bottom gear. Suddenly it was heavy going against spin.

The return of pace after lunch, with the second new ball, saw Zimbabwe increase the scoring rate again, and the batting seemed to be the most discriminating of the day. The partnership developed, almost a repetition of their stand in Bulawayo when the consolidated after some profligate early batting, although again perhaps too defensive at times.

This time Flower was first to his fifty, with Streak following just before tea. The match in many ways was becoming a repetition of Bulawayo, with the same two players steadying the side after early indiscretions. Just after tea, Streak on 54 survived a stumping chance to Mehrab Hossein, who rarely looked better than the stand-in keeper he is. Without addition Streak was given not out for a leg-side catch by Mehrab when the replay appeared to brush the gloves, so luck was not going Bangladesh's way.

The partnership reached 133 when Flower (84) pulled a short ball from Hoque to be caught low down at midwicket, and immediately afterwards an unexpected shower of rain drove the players from the field. It lasted about half an hour, leaving the field too wet for play to resume.