A dogged opening partnership of 152 between Zimbabwe's openers Alistair Campbell and Dion Ebrahim gave Zimbabwe an excellent start in a shortened first-day's play in the Second Test match against South Africa at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo.
Just before bad light stopped play, though, they fell for 77 and 71 respectively, leaving Zimbabwe on 154 for two wickets.
The weather in Bulawayo was most uncharacteristic for September: cold, overcast and with a strong blustery wind. Noel Peck's Queens pitch was much more characteristic, looking a beauty for batting, and he did not expect it to give undue assistance to the spinners. Heath Streak won the toss for Zimbabwe this time and was delighted to be able to bat.
Indeed there were no early problems for openers Alistair Campbell and Dion Ebrahim, who quickly broke Zimbabwe's previous record opening partnership against South Africa - of 13. Campbell got off the mark by driving Shaun Pollock wide of mid-on for four, and practically the only appeal of the first hour came when Ebrahim tried to emulate his second-innings dismissal in Harare by padding up to Pollock.
The 50 partnership was raised in 87 minutes, but runs then came more slowly as South Africa put back their field and adopted a less attacking approach. They were still together at lunch, Campbell with 40 and Ebrahim 28, having done all their team could have asked of them.
After lunch, left-arm spinner Claude Henderson tied down the batsmen, especially Ebrahim, but Campbell finally cut him backward of point to reach his 50. It took another 50 minutes after lunch before the hundred partnership came up; in this the fifth Test match between the two countries, it was the first time at any point that Zimbabwe could claim any advantage.
This, one would expect, would be the time for the batsmen to open up somewhat, but they were unable or unwilling to do so, preferring to continue to graft in traditional Test-match fashion. With the total on 116, they played out four maiden overs in succession before Ebrahim finally reached his 50 in just under four hours. Realistically, though, it could well be the best game plan for their side, as it is hard to imagine Zimbabwe's bowlers, massacred in Harare, bowling South Africa out twice on this pitch; once would be a major achievement.
Campbell had not added to his 67 at tea when South Africa believed they had him caught at the wicket off Makhaya Ntini, between bat and pad; replays appeared to show that umpire Kevan Barbour had made an excellent decision in declaring it not out as it had apparently touched only pad. Minutes later Ebrahim on 59 clipped a ball straight at Herschelle Gibbs at square leg and the chance went down.
Campbell (77) finally fell to a half-hearted drive, Gibbs making up for his dropped catch by holding this one off Lance Klusener's off-cutters at backward point. The opening partnership of 152, off 80 overs, was Zimbabwe's third-best. Then Ebrahim, stuck on his hoodoo score, fell for 71 for the third time in his Test career, as a ball from Henderson turned sharply and had him caught at slip.
As Stuart Carlisle arrived at the wicket, the umpires offered the batsmen the light, ending play 40 minutes early. The weather had remained gloomy all day, and more of the same unpleasant conditions are forecast for the morrow.
Leg-spinning all-rounder Paul Strang returned to the Zimbabwe team; he last played in India in November last year, when he suffered a recurrence of an arm injury during the First Test at Delhi. He replaced pace bowler Douglas Hondo, whose performance in Harare seemed to indicate that he is not yet ready for Test cricket.
In another change, Craig Wishart had the predictability of the selectors confirmed when he found that, yet again, one bad Test has cost him his place. Carlisle, injured against West Indies, replaced him in the Zimbabwean team. South Africa have kept their winning side.