A pathetic batting display by Zimbabwe, all out for 155 in 59 overs on an ideal batting pitch, has almost certainly condemned them to heavy defeat at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo. The manner of their demise, against good but not lethal bowling, will elicit no sympathy from their long-suffering supporters, as one soft dismissal followed another and fighting spirit seemed an altogether foreign quality. At the close West Indies had run up exactly 100 without loss and could anticipate rich pickings on day two.
It was another sunny winter's morning as play began in the First Test of the two-match series. It looked a beautiful pitch for batting, unlikely to give the bowlers too much early assistance, and Heath Streak was eager to bat on winning the toss.
Zimbabwe gave Craig Wishart one of his irregular Test caps as a batting replacement for Andy Flower, deciding to risk a four-man bowling attack. Wicket-keeper Tatenda Taibu made his Test debut at the age of 18. West Indies included Pedro Collins, who has not played on tour since his arrival a few days ago, in preference to Corey Collymore, after assessing the two in practice.
The match started late for perhaps a unique reason: bowler Reon King complained about difficulty in starting his run-up from the sponsor's logo on the outfield. About five minutes were lost until it was decided that nothing could be done about it and he would have to make do. He took it out on Dion Ebrahim, who survived a hostile opening over.
Zimbabwe had moved Alistair Campbell up to open for the first time in Tests, restoring Guy Whittall to the middle order, a commendable gamble as neither had scored runs in their former positions against India. Collins, a rare West Indian left-arm-over paceman who has not played first-class cricket for a year, had the hapless Ebrahim, who has rarely been happy as an opener, trapped lbw playing round a ball of full length without scoring.
Both Campbell and Stuart Carlisle came close to giving catches early on as the bowlers looked impressive when they pitched the ball up. Slowly, though, they found their confidence, until Carlisle (10), as so often happens once he has appeared to settle in, lost his wicket, driving at Collins to edge a catch to second slip.
Campbell (21) has the same problem, as he demonstrated in the next over, as he went after a very wide ball from King and gave the 'keeper a presentation catch. Zimbabwe were once again throwing away their chances in fine batting conditions at 31 for three. One technically incorrect stroke was followed by two gifted wickets.
Craig Wishart and Guy Whittall now had to repair the damage, with Wishart dominating and occasionally breaking through with a superb boundary, including a straight six off Neil McGarrell, in a manner perhaps reminiscent of Robin Smith. But he also fell to a soft dismissal on 36, driving Colin Stuart uppishly to backward point. At 85 for four at lunch, Zimbabwe had quite squandered their advantage, and would have done even worse had Whittall succeeded in his effort to run himself out off the last ball before the interval.
Grant Flower (6) fell soon after lunch, caught at the wicket pushing defensively at an excellent leg-cutter from King. Whittall, batting with discrimination against good bowling, gradually found his fluency, but Streak scored only five before cutting left-arm spinner McGarrell to backward point, where Shivnarine Chanderpaul took a sharp low catch. Zimbabwe were now 119 for six.
Whittall and, uncharacteristically, Andy Blignaut dug in defensively, while Collins added to the West Indian injury worries by limping off with a hurt leg. He was replaced by Stuart, who dismissed Whittall (42), flashing outside the off stump to be caught by first slip off the rebound from second.
Taibu's first Test runs came from a one-bounce four, a hook off Stuart, just before tea, but was out shortly afterwards, easily caught in the covers off a leading edge for six, trying to turn Stuart to leg.
Following this, Blignaut (21) became the third batsman to hit an offering to backward point, King being the lucky bowler, and Raymond Price fell lbw second ball.
Zimbabwe were dismissed for 155 in one of their most spineless displays on a beautiful batting pitch. One can only assume that their morale has been shattered by the political shenanigans off the field and they lack the professional qualities to play above that.
Chris Gayle was soon timing the ball with exquisite sweetness, determined to dominate from the start, as West Indies began their innings. The threat of the world-class Streak or the accuracy of Bryan Strang had no effect on him as he treated both roughly, but left-arm spinner Price put a brake on the scoring. Daren Ganga, although overshadowed, batted soundly on the whole, as usual at about half the scoring rate of Gayle, with the odd miscue from the batsmen not going to hand.
Gayle reached his fifty off 68 balls, and at the close was 52 not out, with Ganga, who hit freely in the dying overs of the day, 44.