Pakistan made rather a pig's ear of the first day's play of the First Test match against Zimbabwe at Harare Sports Club. Put in to bat on a pitch that did not help the seamers as much as expected, they were confronted with some rather mediocre Zimbabwe bowling. They responded with mediocre batting, losing unnecessary wickets and finally allowing themselves to be frustrated out in the final session when Guy Whittall put a brake on the scoring. Pakistan were all out in the final over for 285.
A warm, sunny morning in Harare suggested that the recent rain has departed for the present and no delays or hold-ups in play were imminent. The pitch was still damp underneath, though, and former Zimbabwe captain Dave Houghton thought the ball would seam around for the first day and a half, before settling into a fine batting strip. The crowd numbered several thousand, mostly schoolchildren bussed in from the townships, who as usual provided a vibrant atmosphere.
A word must be said about the media reports concerning the supposedly elaborate security precautions taken at Harare Sports Club. They implied that these reflected an insecure situation in the country, which is quite incorrect. They were only in operation before the Test as a `dry run' for the World Cup, when international regulations require much tighter security than is or has ever been necessary in Zimbabwe, and were not in evidence at all on the match morning.
Alistair Campbell won the toss for Zimbabwe and, no doubt sharing Houghton's view of the pitch, put Pakistan in to bat. Test debutants were all-rounder Blessing Mahwire for Zimbabwe and wicket-keeper Kamran Akmal for Pakistan, replacing Rashid Latif who was unfit.
There was a little seam movement in the pitch but it was not excessive, and Zimbabwe's bowlers did not use it very effectively to start with: Andy Blignaut was erratic while Henry Olonga pitched too short. But when Blignaut did get a ball on line to straighten, Saleem Elahi (2) played a cramped stroke and was held low at second slip by Alistair Campbell; Pakistan 7 for one.
Taufeeq Umar and Younis Khan batted positively, but had to work hard for their runs as the outfield was very slow. Zimbabwe nearly took another early wicket as Taufeeq, then on 10, narrowly beat a fine throw by Olonga from the long-leg boundary as he looked for a second run. While Younis settled down, the left-handed Taufeeq grew increasingly aggressive, pulling powerfully and driving the overpitched balls.
Raymond Price came on to bowl after the drinks interval, and was immediately hoisted for six over long-on by Taufeeq, who thus reached his fifty off 54 balls. Despite being almost on course for a century before lunch, he then went into his shell and only added another 14 runs in almost an hour until the lunch interval.
Soon after the break Zimbabwe believed they had Younis Khan, on 40, caught off Whittall at second slip off inside edge and body, but umpire Venkat ruled, probably correctly, that there was no contact with the bat. Younis did not score another run, though, before he cut Blignaut hard and low, but straight to Ebrahim in the gully. Pakistan were 122 for two, after a partnership of 115.
Inzamam-ul-Haq got off the mark with a three, and then next ball Taufeeq (75) edged a sharp catch to Andy Flower at first slip and Pakistan were suddenly 125 for three. Inzamam and Yousuf Youhana consolidated for about half an hour before they began to accelerate steadily. Inzamam was not timing the ball perfectly and Youhana, belying his lack of match practice, overtook him in the thirties.
Again Zimbabwe's bowlers had failed to maintain the pressure and allowed the batsmen too many scoring opportunities; the 200 came up in the 53rd over. Then on 39, on the stroke of tea, Inzamam tried to pull Olonga but was too late on his shot, skying an easy catch over the bowler's head for twelfth man Mark Vermeulen to take. This was perhaps the turning point of the day.
Zimbabwe bowled with more accuracy after tea, with Whittall, who was not supposed to put too much strain on his injured leg by bowling too much, sending down 21 overs for 44 runs with a line generally outside off stump. Youhana, bogged down for an hour, finally lost patience, tried to swing Price over midwicket, misread the arm ball and was trapped lbw for 63; Pakistan 246 for five.
Price's arm ball also accounted for Kamran Akmal, who failed to score in his first Test innings; shouldering arms, he found the ball coming back in to hit his off stump. Then the deserving Whittall finally picked up a wicket as Saqlain Mushtaq (2) snicked a catch to first slip Andy Flower; Pakistan 262 for seven.
Zimbabwe took the second new ball immediately, although after three quick wickets there was a case for waiting. However, a yorker from Blignaut trapped Waqar Younis (2) lbw as he played across the line, and shortly afterwards Shoaib Akhtar (1) was caught at third slip by Grant Flower. The catch was taken so low that the umpire was uncertain but, in a rare return to old-fashioned sportsmanship, the batsman asked the fielder and walked on receiving confirmation. Blignaut, bowling better now, had taken five wickets in an innings for the third time in his brief Test career on his return to that level of the game.
With last man Mohammad Sami at the crease Hasan Raza, who had been unable to dominate, now began to take some risks. In the final over of the day, with 46 to his name, he snicked Olonga to Campbell at second slip; again the umpires could not see but Raza, less sporting than Shoaib, stood his ground and waited until the third umpire confirmed it.
Perhaps the best department of the game during the day was the fine Zimbabwe fielding and catching, with Whittall's bowling, undervalued in the book, the greatest influence on the scoreline. Despite some mediocre batting and bowling, it was a fascinating day's cricket.