It was a not-so-small step for a man, but a giant leap forward for black cricket in Zimbabwe. Hamilton Masakadza, already Zimbabwe's youngest (and first black) first-class centurion and youngest Test player, became the youngest batsman at 17 years and 354 days to score a century on his Test debut.
Saleem Malik was the previous holder of this record, and for Zimbabwe, Masakadza follows in the footsteps of Dave Houghton - who at almost exactly twice Masakadza's age remains the oldest player to score a century on Test debut!
Overall Zimbabwe produced a major surprise for West Indies on the third day of the Test Match at Harare Sports Club. After doing their best to throw away the game on the first day, Zimbabwe's batsmen regrouped so effectively that by the close they were 324 for four, 108 runs ahead of West Indies with six wickets left. They began this morning wondering if they could last out the day. They will start tomorrow believing they can win.
West Indies bowled without inspiration and missed several crucial chances in the field. Zimbabwe's top order, to their credit, exploited these lapses to the full, but if they do manage to pull off an amazing victory, the West Indian fielders will be primarily to blame.
Masakadza, replacing Dion Ebrahim after the latter's controversial dismissal the previous evening, showed his intentions early by hitting the second ball of the day for a beautifully timed on-driven four. He and Alistair Campbell played the West Indian pacemen quite confidently and competently, but Neil McGarrell, when he came on, found turn, occasionally vicious spin, from the pitch.
Without forcing the pace, a confident partnership developed at a rate of about four runs an over, with Campbell playing the leading role but Masakadza impressing with his good sense and maturity. The usual large and lively crowd of township children was in attendance, as well as a couple of hundred adult spectators.
Campbell reached his fifty with an effortless flick for four over the leg-side field off McGarrell, and both batsmen, perhaps recognising the threat he posed, seemed determined to seize every possible scoring opportunity off him. A century partnership was in the offing when, with the total on 118, Campbell (65) played indeterminately at Carl Hooper to be caught at slip off the keeper's gloves.
McGarrell missed a hard return catch when Masakadza had 29, while Craig Wishart, determined to be aggressive, escaped a possible stumping on 14. Masakadza's only problems appeared to come when Colin Stuart reverse-swung the ball in late to him from a full length. The West Indian bowling was not very impressive, and Wishart hit Hooper for a huge six over the press box, only to survive a hard chance at silly point in the next over, from McGarrell.
Masakadza ran to his fifty off 108 balls, looking more impressive all the time. Wishart has perhaps never before given the appearance of such confidence at Test level, and a powerful if mistimed drive struck silly mid-off Daren Ganga a sickening blow by the eye, possibly ending his participation in the match.
A powerful pull for four by Wishart off Stuart brought up the batsman's first Test fifty, in limited opportunities, since India's visit three years ago; it came off 91 balls. The century partnership came up and Zimbabwe took the lead with only two wickets down. Hooper's leadership, so impressive when his team was on top, now began to appear rather limited.
Wishart passed his previous Test best of 63 and caught Masakadza just before tea, when both were on 81; without addition after tea, Wishart again benefited from a botched stumping by Courtney Browne. The scoring slowed as both batsmen approached centuries and West Indies took the second new ball.
Wishart will forever rue his run-out for 93. He top-edged a ball almost to the third man fielder and then appeared to stop in mid-pitch to express relief at his escape instead of completing his single; Browne lobbed the ball to hit the bowler's stumps as Wishart realised his aberration all too late. The pair had added 170, the second-highest for Zimbabwe's third wicket in Test cricket.
Masakadza was then on 91, but he did not appear to let the dismissal affect his concentration. He moved to 97 and played through a maiden from McGarrell, not without an unwise flirtation or two, before lashing Reon King through the covers for four to write his name into the history books. Shortly afterwards, perhaps battling physical and mental exhaustion, he offered a simple catch to square leg that was dropped.
Again Zimbabwe lost a wicket to the last ball of the day, this time with less doubt, as Guy Whittall was trapped lbw on the back foot by McGarrell's arm ball for 14. Masakadza, on 115, lived to fight another day.