Close Zimbabwe 308 and 151 for 4 lead Australia 403 (Ponting 169, Price 6-121) by 56 runs
Mark Vermeulen hits out on the way to his 48 © AFP
Zimbabwe ended the third day of the second Test at Sydney on the verge of setting Australia a testing fourth-innings target on a ground known for producing low fourth-innings totals. First, Ray Price took career-best figures of 6 for 121 to restrict Australia to 403, a first-innings lead of 95, which was far fewer than what Australia would have hoped for at the start of play. Then, Mark Vermuelen (48) and Trevor Gripper (47) led Zimbabwe's batting in the second innings, as they finished on 151 for 4, a lead of 56.
Bowling from the southern end for all but a few overs when the second new ball was taken, Price ended up with the scalps of the entire Australian middle order. This morning, he started the slide with Steve Waugh's wicket, for 61. The ball pitched on the rough, spun across Waugh, and took the glove and pad on the way to short leg, where Stuart Carlisle completed a fine diving catch. Waugh's stand with Ricky Ponting was worth 135 runs.
With Waugh out of the way, Price turned his attention to Ponting, repeatedly pitching it on the rough from over the wicket. He was eventually rewarded when he got a ball to bounce onto Ponting. The batsman played it down at his feet, but the ball spun back, crept through a gap between his legs, and dislodged the bails (306 for 5). Ponting scored 169 off 249 balls, stroking 23 fours and two sixes.
Gilchrist was typically into his stride immediately, coming down the wicket to Price and hitting a huge six to midwicket. He had reached 20 when Heath Streak, bowling better than at any other time during the series, undid him with a superb inswinger which pierced the gap between bat and pad and crashed into his off stump. Gilchrist, thoroughly beaten, didn't even bother to look behind him to inspect the damage (347 for 6). Meanwhile, Katich played a steadying hand, quietly building an innings which became all the more important as the more established batsmen had been dismissed.
Stuart Carlisle holds on to a splendid catch to get rid of Steve Waugh © Getty Images
Katich wasn't afraid to go for his shots, and hit a cover-drive and a back-cut off an over from Gavin Ewing. Katich scored his maiden half-century but was then bowled behind his legs for 52 by Price (384 for 8). The tail was wiped away quickly, with Price taking the last wicket - that of Brad Williams - to wrap up the innings.
Zimbabwe made a bad start to their second innings, losing Dion Ebrahim for a duck in the first over. However, Vermeulen and Gripper applied themselves, although both enjoyed a life each. Vermeulen got a reprieve when umpire Brent Bowden wasn't convinced that Vermuelen had hit a ball which rebounded off his shoulder to be held by Matthew Hayden at first slip. Zimbabwe were then on 61. At 89, Gripper was dropped at square leg by Damien Martyn, but four runs later, Waugh took a fine catch in the covers as Vermeulen attempted a back-foot drive off Williams (93 for 2).
First-innings centurion Stuart Carlisle opened his second innings with a well-timed square-cut which also brought up the 100, but then holed out to Williams off Katich for 5 (103 for 3). Zimbabwe's innings lost its way when Gripper lunged at a ball from Katich and Matthew Hayden, at first slip, dived to his left to take the catch 9114 for 4). When bad light again caused an early end to play, Craig Wishart and Tatenda Taibu had carried the score through to 151.
Ahead by 56 runs, with six wickets in hand, Zimbabwe only need to avoid stage fright to ensure a competitive end to the game. With Price bowling so effectively, a fourth-innings target of more than 200 for Australia could give the Zimbabweans a chance of achieving what must have seemed like a dream as they contemplated Matthew Hayden's world-record batting performance during the first Test.