Test history is about to be made, as three pairs of brothers are in a Test eleven for the first time. Two Flowers, two Strangs and two Rennies will all be taking the field for Zimbabwe. The home team will also be playing two leg-spinners, not quite a record, but as rare as the freak September weather Zimbabwe is currently experiencing.
Rain in September here is not very common, and certainly not in the quantity that has fallen in Harare since last Saturday -- the New Zealanders appear to have brought their own weather with them. The sky is overcast, but the light is not bad, and play is expected to start on time. Whether play will be possible throughout the day is dubious, however.
New Zealand have won the toss and put Zimbabwe in to bat in these conditions. For Zimbabwe, Gavin Rennie and Adam Huckle will be making their Test debuts, the former opening the innings with Grant Flower.
Predictions on the result are hard to make. New Zealand are without Bryan Young and Simon Doull, while Zimbabwe have lost Eddo Brandes and Henry Olonga for the series due to injury. Everton Matambanadzo is also unavailable for this match due to shin soreness and a side strain. Heath Streak and Bryan Strang are both playing after recent injuries, so all five of Zimbabwe's leading pace bowlers have had problems. John Rennie has been brought into the team as third seamer. Zimbabwe have as much experience overall as their opponents for once, if not more. Much depends on whether Zimbabwe have maintained the same high level of confidence with which they finished last season.
The teams are as follows, in probable batting order:
Zimbabwe: G Flower, G Rennie, *A Campbell, Houghton, +A Flower, G Whittall, P Strang, H Streak, J Rennie, B Strang, Huckle.
New Zealand: Spearman, Pocock, Horne, *Fleming, Astle, Cairns, +Parore, Harris, Vettori, O'Connor, Davis.
As feared, rain interrupted the opening session of this Test match, cutting 65 minutes from the play. However, the weather report suggests that clear weather is moving in from the south.
The New Zealand bowlers O'Connor and Davis have moved the ball sharply at times, but the Zimbabwe openers have held firm and were beginning to score more freely by the interval. Gavin Rennie, on his debut, took strike and scored a single off his sixth ball; he has rarely looked in trouble and, from what we have seen so far, certainly looks like fulfilling the role of Grant Flower's long-lost opening partner.
Grant Flower struggled at first, and in the fourth over was caught at second slip off a no-ball, although he probably would not have attempted that stroke off a legitimate delivery. Then followed two lbw appeals off the next three balls, as he was beaten by Davis' sharp breakbacks. He took over 40 minutes and 29 deliveries to get off the mark, and then scored 2, 2, 4, 3 and 4 off consecutive balls, going in to lunch looking much more confident. His early- season form has been excellent, and he has been batting with more fluency than ever before.
The sun is now attempting to break through, and it may well be that New Zealand will lose the advantage they hoped to gain by putting Zimbabwe in to bat.
In an extended afternoon session, with a view to making up time this evening, some intelligent New Zealand bowling accounted for Zimbabwe's first four wickets -- although Grant Flower is still there.
The best of the bowlers was Chris Cairns, when operating from the city (south) end. He bowled from a short run-up of little over ten yards, but made good use of his height, getting movement and lift from the pitch. He turned the left-handers Gavin Rennie and Andy Flower square- on, to dismiss them with catches to first and third slip respectively.
He received good support from Shayne O'Connor, who bowled well from the north end, moving the ball in the main away from the left-handers, but enjoying little luck. His only wicket came in a second spell, when he seemed somewhat tired, but had Guy Whittall caught at first slip.
Heath Davis was erratic, bowling four wides down the leg side at one stage, but delivering the occasional very good ball. Before lunch he had had Grant Flower caught at second slip off a no-ball; afterwards he had Whittall dropped by third slip, moving across in front of second, before he had scored.
Nathan Astle had the gritty Grant Flower tied down with his accurate medium-pace 'dobbers', but Alistair Campbell was handling him well and looked as if he was breaking the shackles when he tried one stroke too many, and a flick to midwicket resulted in a low catch.
It is hard to say which side is on top until we have seen New Zealand bat on this pitch, which has given some help to accurate, intelligent seam bowling. New Zealand, barring a big first-innings total, will have to bat last against the leg-spin of Paul Strang and Adam Huckle, but this pitch is not renowned for assisting spin.
The weather is much brighter now, but still mainly cloudly. Play may well continue until after five o'clock, but probably not much longer.
As expected, the light did not last the distance, and play ended just before the original closing time of 5 p.m. The last session was largely devoid of incident, apart from a few fine drives by Grant Flower.
Flower and Dave Houghton were clearly looking to play out the day, and Houghton in particular was very restrained. As the light deteriorated, New Zealand stuck to their accurate medium-pace 'dobbers', Nathan Astle and Chris Harris, and the batsmen were content to play down the line and wait for the occasional loose ball. It was not very attractive, but the best policy for Zimbabwe as they will be hoping for more comfortable batting conditions tomorrow.
New Zealand were perhaps not too unhappy to leave the field, as they decided to risk taking the second new ball, despite the fact that the umpires had already conferred several times about the light. It was obvious that the players would leave the field at that point.
Zimbabwe will not be too unhappy to have lost only four wickets after being put in to bat, and will be looking to bat New Zealand into the ground tomorrow. Both overnight batsmen have made monumental scores before, and much will depend on whether the New Zealand pacemen can make an early breakthrough.
Overnight score: Zimbabwe 205/4 (G Flower 85*, Houghton 20*).
This morning dawned cloudy and overcast again in Harare, but there are now signs of the cloud cover clearing and the sun preparing to resume its regular full-time September duties before too long. The pitch should respond favourably to the sun, from the batsmen's point of view, and it will obviously be Zimbabwe's aim to build on the foundation they laid yesterday and to occupy the crease for as long as possible.
The new ball is immediately available for New Zealand, and it will be vital for them to gain an early breakthrough and part Zimbabwe's last two specialist batsmen. Grant Flower and Dave Houghton showed yesterday, however, that they intend to be there long-term, and will be hoping to consolidate during the morning session and reap the harvest later in the day. They are followed in the batting order by all-rounders Paul Strang, who already has a Test century to his credit, and Heath Streak, who is looking increasingly capable of scoring one. Zimbabwe will be hoping for a minimum of 400.
New Zealand's best bowler yesterday was Chris Cairns, who showed accuracy, lift and movement, if not great pace, off a short run-up. Shane O'Connor, if not too tired by yesterday's exertions, could be dangerous with the new ball, as could Heath Davis if he puts it all together. Daniel Vettori will surely be used more than he was yesterday, unless the pacemen strike gold, but it is unlikely that the medium-pacers Nathan Astle and Chris Harris will command the same respect today.
Zimbabwe 288/7 (P Strang 37*, J Rennie 20*)
Zimbabwe began the morning looking to capitalise on the foundation their top order laid yesterday, but the first hour proved a disappointment. Three wickets went down, including both of the overnight batsmen, but by lunch some of the lost ground had been made up.
New Zealand took the new ball straight away, but O'Connor was much less effective today, and soon gave way to Chris Cairns. In the meantime, though, a full-length ball from Heath Davis caught Dave Houghton, short of footwork, on the crease right in front of the stumps. Grant Flower moved to his third Test century with some more good strokes, but once there he appeared mentally drained. He was unable to regain his momentum, and was eventually out, snicking a straight-forward catch off Cairns to the keeper. Two balls later, Heath Streak, after narrowly evading a bouncer, edged to first slip. This was a shock, considering the commanding batting form he has shown so far this season. Cairns was again the most dangerous of the New Zealand bowlers, taking a slightly longer run and at times bowling a little more quickly than yesterday; his spell this morning read 8-5-4-2. None of the other bowlers looked particularly dangerous.
Zimbabwe might well have declined at this point, but Paul Strang, fresh from a good season with Kent and always a fighter, was now joined by John Rennie, a useful batsman. Strang played his strokes firmly, although he was dropped off a high slash to gully. Rennie, after an uncertain start, gained significantly in confidence and had passed his previous highest Test score of 19 not out (in his last Test, against Sri Lanka, three years ago) by lunch. He is Zimbabwe's sixth-choice pace bowler for Tests, although he often appears in one-day matches, and he is a better batsman than those he replaced.
Still to come are Bryan Strang, a keen-eyed slogger but without much defence, and Adam Huckle, whose first-class average of just over 5 does him less than justice. 400 is still possible, but unlikely now. However, with Paul Strang still around, anything can happen!
Zimbabwe 298; New Zealand 48/2 (Horne 1*, Fleming 2*).
This for a long time looked like being another afternoon session when Zimbabwe lost a lot of ground. After lunch, they did not last long, scoring only ten more runs for the loss of their last three wickets.
The decisive blow came when Paul Strang cut a ball from Davis late into the slips and Stephen Fleming took a brilliant low catch. Very soon afterwards, John Rennie also snicked a catch to Fleming at first slip, his fifth of the innings, a rare feat in any kind of cricket and certainly in Tests. Then Bryan Strang, trying a cross-batted slog, was adfudged leg-before to Chris Cairns, his fifth wicket of the innings, and Zimbabwe failed to reach the 300-run landmark which would presumably have been the least they had hoped for. Good bowling and catching had enabled New Zealand to regain some points.
Then Craig Spearman and Blair Pocock shared a fluent opening stand for New Zealand, after Spearman had been dropped off a very difficult chance at short leg off the first ball of the innings. Heath Streak, still not back to his best, and John Rennie, Zimbabwe's sixth-choice pace bowler, gave them little trouble in a partnership notable for its good placement of the ball and superb running between the wickets.
This eventually proved to be their downfall. Pocock played a fine off-drive, but then decided to risk a third run on Heath Streak's arm -- he finished well short of the crease, as he would have expected with a little more experience of that player's fielding. Next ball, his concentration perhaps shaken, Spearman was well caught by Alistair Campbell at second slip, and Zimbabwe were right back in the game. As Paul Strang came on to bowl, Matthew Horne and Fleming proceeded much more cautiously to tea. Once again, the balance of this match has evened out.
Zimbabwe 298; New Zealand 91/3 (Fleming 20*, Astle 2*).
Less than an hour's play was possible after tea before bad light closed in and the cricket never resumed. At the end of the day, the match was about as well-balanced as could be.
Matthew Horne and Stephen Fleming batted steadily against the Zimbabwe attack, picking up runs safely, although left-arm seamer Bryan Strang put a brake on the scoring for a while. There were a few uppish strokes and appeals, so New Zealand by no means had everything their way. Horne broke the shackles by hooking Strang for six but, when Heath Streak eventually returned to replace him, he tried a similar stroke, only to get a top edge and sky a catch to Guy Whittall at deepish fine leg. This was perhaps the wicket Zimbabwe wanted the most, as Horne has been the leading scorer of the tour so far.
However, Fleming is still there, a batsman of great potential, and none of the Zimbabweans will have forgotten Chris Cairns' devastating century at Auckland in the last Test played between these two teams. Nathan Astle is the man with Fleming at the moment, and he did not have time to settle in before the light deteriorated enough for the umpires to offer them the light.
So honours will again start pretty even on the third day tomorrow. At present, just before what was the scheduled closing time of five o'clock, it is raining steadily, and everyone would be pleased to see an end to this freakish September weather which is not appreciated even by the farmers. Unless it clears up soon, it could easily condemn this match to an unmemorable draw.
Overnight: Zimbabwe 298; New Zealand 91/3 (Fleming 20*, Astle 2*).
Weather conditions look rather more hopeful in Harare this morning. Most of the sky is still covered in cloud, but they are higher and fluffier than before; perhaps it would be tempting fate to hope for an uninterrupted day, although an early ending due to bad light is always a possibility.
Play finished last night with honours still about even. If the weather and batting conditions improve, New Zealand will feel vindicated in their decision to field first. Zimbabwe's main aim will be to dismiss cheaply the two overnight batsmen and Chris Cairns, and hope to take advantage of the inexperienced New Zealand tail. But the Zimbabwe bowling did not cause the batsmen much trouble yesterday, and it was fine fielding and guile that took the wickets rather than firepower. The bowling has not let Zimbabwe down, but yesterday it lacked the bite necessary to overwhelm the opposition.
Adam Huckle should have his first Test bowl today, perhaps even in tandem with fellow leg-spinner Paul Strang. That will be worth anticipating, and it will be fascinating to see how New Zealand are able to handle this. Possibly the wrist-spinners, especially in the fourth innings, may hold the key to this Test rather than the pacemen, even though conditions are not really what they would have ordered.
Lunchtime score: Zimbabwe 298; New Zealand 160/6 (Parore 13*, Harris 7*).
The balance of the match has swung steadily in favour of Zimbabwe, as New Zealand struggled for runs and steadily lost wickets during the morning session.
New Zealand were never able to settle in as they had done yesterday, as the Zimbabwe bowlers and fielders maintained the pressure from the start. Nathan Astle fell in the second over of the day, edging a straight-forward catch to the wicket-keeper. Chris Cairns, completely contrary to his reputation, never looked like taking control, eventually scoring only 12 runs off 58 balls. Even so, the Zimbabweans considered him fortunate, as with a single to his credit he edged a ball from Streak to short leg Gavin Rennie, who appeared to have no doubt about the catch. For possibly the first time in cricket since the more flexible regulation was introduced, the umpires referred the catch to the third umpire, uncertain whether it had quite carried to the fielder. The television replay was not 100% conclusive, so after a lengthy delay Cairns was ruled not out.
At the other end, however, Stephen Fleming was playing a typically classic left-hander's innings. He showed superb timing with many elegant drives, hit with effortless ease, and also flicked a delivery from Bryan Strang easily over midwicket for six. His demise left a rather bad impression, though, as he clearly edged a ball which wicket-keeper Andy Flower held cleanly in front of first slip, and there was no need for Fleming to wait for the umpire's decision as he did.
Bryan Strang bowled a long spell from the clubhouse (north) end, tying the batsmen down to the extent that he has conceded only 29 runs off 19 overs. Heath Streak bowled two spells during the morning without taking a wicket, and there is a danger of reducing him to a stock bowler through overbowling, especially as he recently suffered a groin injury. Adam Huckle came on to bowl for the first time just before lunch, and came close to joining the elite club of those to take a wicket with their first ball in Test cricket, as a close appeal for lbw against Cairns was rejected.
Further disaster came for New Zealand when Adam Parore drove Streak to long-off, where it was fielded by John Rennie. Yesterday's run-out had clearly not fully registered with the New Zealanders, as Parore called Cairns for a third run. Rennie returned the ball to the bowler's end with Parore just home, but Streak acted quickly, hurling the ball to the far end where Cairns was found just short of his crease. New Zealand's sixth wicket went down with their score less than half that of Zimbabwe's.
The all-rounders Parore and Chris Harris are at the crease, and will have to fight hard this afternoon to bring New Zealand back to parity. Zimbabwe will be hoping for a first-innings lead of perhaps 100 or more, and then look for a big second innings total to pave the way towards victory. The weather is mostly sunny at present, and a stern battle lies ahead.
Tea score: Zimbabwe 298 and 27/0 (G Rennie 10*, G Flower 14*). New Zealand 207.
Zimbabwe are slowly tightening their hold on this match at present, going in to tea effectively on 118/0 after establishing a first-innings lead of 91.
It took Zimbabwe some time to break the seventh-wicket partnership which continued after lunch. Heath Streak bowled briefly before Paul Strang returned, and we enjoyed the rare sight of two leg-spinners bowling in tandem, as Adam Huckle continued from the north end. Huckle it was who broke the stand: Chris Harris tried an extravagant stroke across the line, only to find he had misread the googly and was palpably leg-before.
After this, the innings did not last long. Adam Parore kept his end up but was unable to dominate; he survived a sharp slip chance when on 36. Daniel Vettori looked quite unhappy against the spin and eventually skied a catch off the leading edge to mid-on. Shayne O'Connor did not last long before being caught by Dave Houghton in a short gully position, while Heath Davis fell to a bat-pad catch by Gavin Rennie. The leg-spinners had taken the last four wickets between them at little cost.
Zimbabwe began their second innings like a team that is in the driving seat and knows it. Gavin Rennie and Grant Flower began positively, the latter soon getting under way with two classy boundaries off Heath Davis, who had a nightmare over, which also included four no-balls. He was quickly replaced by Chris Cairns, who slowed the scoring. The runs continued to come at the other end, and New Zealand are in desperate need of a major breakthrough, otherwise they will find themselves staring defeat in the face.
Close of play score: Zimbabwe 298 and 115/0 (G Rennie 45*, G Flower 60*). New Zealand 207.
Barring a remarkable New Zealand fightback, Zimbabwe are on course for the second Test match victory in their brief history. They finished the day in effect on 206 for no wicket and are leaving nothing to chance in their pursuit of a win.
After tea we saw half an hour of champagne batting, as Grant Flower in particular launched himself into the New Zealand bowling with a series of classic, orthodox strokes. Flower has had a reputation as a stodgy anchorman, and he did play in that style in the first innings, though without getting really bogged down. His career seems to be following a similar course to that of Glenn Turner, who developed from being a stonewaller into a fine attacking opening batsman with all the strokes. Flower has gradually widened his range of shots and now has most of them, which he uses with discretion.
After half an hour of Zimbabwe ascendancy, New Zealand tightened things up and began to stem the flow of runs. Flower was forced into his shell for a while before he regained momentum, and at one stage pulled Chris Harris for 4 and 6 off successive balls. The pull is the latest addition to his expanding repertoire. He reached his fifty off 96 balls and will be looking tomorrow to become the first Zimbabwean to score two centuries in the same Test match. Gavin Rennie was also close to a maiden Test fifty at the close, and he too displayed a good range of strokes. The two are close to the Zimbabwe Test record first-wicket partnership of 120, between Flower and Stuart Carlisle in Auckland, on the last occasion the teams met in a Testeighteen months ago.
New Zealand bowled tidily, but much of the time it was not enough against the super- confident Zimbabwean openers. Chris Cairns only bowled briefly after tea and surprisingly did not appear again. But, barring surprises, whatever he may be able to do tomorrow will probably be too late. It will take some remarkable performances to loose Zimbabwe's grip of the match now, and the likelihood is that the weather will hold good for the home side. But the weather situation will probably have much to do with the timing of Zimbabwe's expected declaration tomorrow.
Overnight score: Zimbabwe 298 and 115/0 (G Rennie 45*, G Flower 60*). New Zealand 207.
Today, barring some major surprises, Zimbabwe should make great progress towards wrapping up their second Test victory. They start the day 206 runs ahead in the second innings with all their wickets still intact. With two days to go, only a remarkable turnabout or bad weather is likely to frustrate them. And the weather is gradually clearing up; there is still quite a lot of cloud, but they are not rain clouds and the sun is shining brightly for the start of play.
Grant Flower will be aiming to become the first Zimbabwean to score twin centuries in a Test match. His overnight 60 took him to second place in the all-time (well, five years, actually) Zimbabwe batting list; his current 1339 is one more than his brother Andy, who is still to bat and could therefore overtake him, and 80 behind Dave Houghton at the top of the list. Another six runs by the opening pair will create a new opening partnership record for Zimbabwe in Test cricket, overtaking the 120 by the same Flower and Stuart Carlisle at Auckland early last year.
The weather will probably be a minor consideration for Alistair Campbell when timing his anticipated declaration, and two days should be plenty of time for Zimbabwe to complete a comfortable victory -- in normal circumstances. As if often said, cricket is a funny game, and Zimbabwe cannot afford to take anything for granted.
Lunch-time score: Zimbabwe 298 and 212/1 (G Flower 122*, A Flower 18*); New Zealand 207.
Zimbabwe continued to make irresistible progress this morning towards what they confidently expect to be their second Test victory. This was despite some blatant time- wasting tactics by the New Zealanders, who managed to get away with bowling only 25 overs in the two hours, despite xusing Nathan Astle with a shortish run from one end all morning.
Gavin Rennie and Grant Flower continued to bat with sensible enterprise, but the accuracy of Shayne O'Connor and Astle, together with increasingly one-day field placings, made it difficult to score quickly. The first landmark was a new first-wicket Test record partnership for Zimbabwe, beating the 120 by Flower and Stuart Carlisle in Auckland early last year. Rennie became the fifth Zimbabwean to pass fifty on his Test debut, and was finally out for 57, very well caught overhead in the gully by Chris Harris, off an uppish cut. Harris had not long before dropped another difficult chance from Rennie, damaging a finger in the process. The new partnership record stands at 156.
Andy Flower joined his brother, and runs came steadily from ones and twos, with very few boundaries possible due to the presence of most of the fielders on the boundary. The New Zealand bowlers were involved in frequent lengthy consultations with the captain, and Chris Cairns ambled from one long-on boundary to the other between overs. The moderately-sized crowd bore this with remarkable patience, although this can scarcely be expected later in the day as the liquid refreshment begins to take effect. Umpire Cooray belatedly appeared to speak to the captain and there was a slight improvement since then.
With Grant Flower on 99, some of the fielders came in and Cairns bowled a head-high ball outside the off stump to try to delay his century. Flower had the answer, though: he stepped back and flicked the ball superbly over the third-man boundary for six. This stroke of marvellous confidence and timing completely exemplifies the progress made by the younger Flower over the past two or three seasons. He is as hard to remove as ever, but he has greatly extended his range of strokes and must come into consideration for a world eleven now. All he needs is to score heavily against stronger bowling attacks -- but opportunities are limited, as only Pakistan of the world's top bowling teams appear willing to play Zimbabwe. In six seasons since gaining Test status, Zimbabwe has still to play Australia or West Indies in Test cricket, and have been allowed only one Test against'big brother' South Africa. This match clearly shows Zimbabwe would be worthy opposition for any opponent.
The declaration may well come sometime in the region of tea. Before then, we should see Zimbabwe attempting in earnest to put the New Zealand bowling to the sword, and with batsmen like Alistair Campbell and Dave Houghton to come, this will be interesting. Provided New Zealand get around to providing the deliveries. It takes two to tango, and the tourists have become very reluctant participants.
Tea score: Zimbabwe 298 and 297/8 (J Rennie 3*, B Strang 1*); New Zealand 207.
The standard of cricket deteriorated sharply in the last hour before tea, as the Zimbabwe innings lost credibility but the captain refused to declare and New Zealand continued to waste time freely. Weak umpiring also came into it, as the farcical situation developed in Davis' final over before tea when the captain was twice allowed between balls to engage his bowler in long consultations, and it must have been obvious even to the umpires that the fielders were in effect making fools of them. Yet they chose to turn the proverbial blind eye.
Zimbabwe continued well for a while, but the slide began when Andy Flower, slashing at a ball outside the off stump, was caught at the wicket. Guy Whittall was unlucky, as a fine straight drive from Grant Flower flicked the bowler's fingers before hitting the stumps at the bowler's end, with the batsman naturally out of his crease backing up. This is a blind spot in the laws that nobody seems interested in putting right; surely a wicket should only fall under such circumstances if the bowler's action is deliberate.
Grant Flower finally went, clipping a hard drive wide of midwicket, only for Stephen Fleming to fling himself to his left and take a superb catch. He deservedly walked out to a standing ovation, and has now made himself Zimbabwe's leading run-scorer in Test cricket.
Deterioration continued, as Dave Houghton slogged a catch to the deep leg boundary. Paul Strang batted enterprisingly before he also holed out at wide long-on, but Alistair Campbell's innings was rather a waste. If he was to continue to bat, he should have been looking to score much more quickly; his 21, before providing Fleming with a record-equalling seventh catch, came off 50 balls. Heath Streak was brilliantly run out for a 'pair' by a fine throw from backward point by Harris, but probably he should not even have been batting by now. Zimbabwe, 388 ahead, with New Zealand's best successful victory chase being 324, are continuing to bat after tea. Clearly the confidence in a match-winning situation is not yet there.
Close of play: Zimbabwe 298 and 311/9 dec.; New Zealand 207 and 64/2 (Pocock 30*, Fleming 0*). Target: 403
Zimbabwe's players and spectators were left feeling somewhat aggrieved at the umpires at the close of play today. It was bad enough to see the passivity of the umpires as New Zealand cynically wasted time during the Zimbabwe innings, but there was also much annoyance at the decision of the umpires to offer the batsmen the option to depart early for bad light with two leg-spinners bowling. It would have been very much a case of 'serves them right' had New Zealand been required to bat on in light which few felt merited a closure of play.
On the other hand, Zimbabwe's delayed declaration found little or no support. Campbell waited until the lead was over 400 and John Rennie had been caught and bowled before declaring. 400 may be a psychological barrier, but that debit was quite possibly exceeded by the pleasure the New Zealanders had in being allowed to take a cluster of Zimbabwe middle-order wickets. That must have been a similar dampener for Zimbabwe. Had the declaration been made with the batsmen still in full flow, it would have been a much more positive note on which to take the field.
Certainly Craig Spearman and Blair Pocock looked positive and confident when they were eventually called upon to open the New Zealand innings. The Zimbabwe pace bowling was largely innocuous: Bryan Strang produced some good deliveries, but neither Heath Streak nor Guy Whittall could find a good line. Runs came fairly freely as the batsmen took their toll of loose deliveries. Eventually Campbell turned to his leg- spinners, and immediately the game became more interesting. There were still loose deliveries, but this is expected from leg-spinners; there were also some dangerous deliveries which had the batsmen struggling and groping.
Pocock had a lucky escape when a thick outside edge from Paul Strang was dropped by the keeper, a catch that either sticks or it doesn't. The total was then 41/1, with Pocock on 19. When on 26, the fielders went up for an appeal for a close catch off Pocock, but the ball appeared to come off his body. He was to survive the day, which was not the case for Spearman. Andy Flower atoned for his earlier lapse by picking up a thin edge. Immediately afterwards, the new batsman Matthew Horne attempted to pull Strang, but he misread the googly; the ball tucked him right up and lobbed off his gloves for Andy Flower to pouch with ease.
It was at this point that the umpires appeared to decide that failure to read a leg-spinner was sufficient grounds for offering the light to the batsmen. New Zealand finished the day a little better than they deserved, but on the other hand Zimbabwe's delayed declaration probably did them no favours. However, it will take a major fightback by New Zealand if they are to avoid defeat tomorrow, or else some unexpected rain -- or even some bad light!
Overnight: Zimbabwe 298 and 311/9 dec; New Zealand 207 and 64/2 (Pocock 30*, Fleming 0*).
This could be the day when two leg-spinners will bowl Zimbabwe to their second Test victory. Zimbabwe are confident they can win, but they will have to ensure there are no slip-ups, as New Zealand will be fighting to save their pride. The odds favour Zimbabwe, but it never does to take anything for granted.
The weather is at present clearer than it has been at any time during the match, with only a few fleecy white clouds in the sky, but there is always the possibility that it will cloud over later in the day and bad light could be a factor. If so, Zimbabwe know they can expect no favours from the umpires, but it would indeed be a travesty of justice were New Zealand's time-wasting tactics of yesterday to save the match for them.
Yesterday, Zimbabwe's leg-spinners, who are extracting a reasonable amount of turn from a pitch which has something in it for everybody, looked more dangerous than Heath Streak or Bryan Strang, fine bowlers that these two are. John Rennie, though a great trier and a fine one-day bowler, is not quite in the same class for wicket-taking, but with Zimbabwe's quality of attack, victory is to be expected barring unusual circumstances.
If Zimbabwe do win, it will be sad if there is not a large crowd to see them do so. On a weekday, few working people can take the day off. But if news spreads around the city this afternoon that Zimbabwe are moving steadily towards victory, there will be a remarkable number of impromptu funerals at unspecified and unusual venues, and the national team will be cheered home amid great celebration. Zimbabwe need this victory; the world needs to know that Zimbabwe has a fine team, a unique brand of play, and can give any team in the world a good, sporting match. Reputations are hard to make, but it is time Zimbabwe's Cinderella status were over.
Lunch-time score: Zimbabwe 207 and 311/9 dec; New Zealand 206 and 120/4 (Pocock 51*, Cairns 3*).
For a long time this morning, New Zealand looked like making Zimbabwe fight all the way for victory -- and they may still do so. The overnight pair, Blair Pocock and Stephen Fleming, hung on for 96 minutes before Zimbabwe finally achieved a break- through. Their determination and sheer guts was admirable, as they had many good deliveries to handle and were by no means always comfortable. England could have done with a few more batsmen with their application in the recent series against Australia.
Heath Streak and Paul Strang opened the bowling for Zimbabwe, but Streak is no more than a shadow of his real, irresistible self at present, and is clearly still suffering somewhat, either physically or psychologically, from injury. He gave way to Bryan Strang, who proved much more accurate and bowled many testing deliveries. In the meantime, Adam Huckle replaced Strang at the north end, but the New Zealanders continued to hang on with great determination. The batsmen concentrated on sound defence, but kept the scoreboard ticking over with some good strokes from the poorer deliveries. The first chance Zimbabwe had came when Pocock, on 48, snicked Bryan Strang low to first slip, where Alistair Campbell could not hold the chance.
This might have proved crucial, but the perspiring Zimbabweans, fielding under the sun for a change, finally got their reward. Bryan Strang brought a ball back to trap Fleming right in front of the stumps, and three balls later Nathan Astle fell to a low gully catch by Grant Flower. The whole situation changed now, as it would have been a great boost for New Zealand had they gone in to lunch without losing a further wicket.
Much depends on Pocock now, as far as New Zealand are concerned, unless Chris Cairns has one of his brilliant days -- but this isn't really his situation. He has had his luck, both yesterday and today, but he has fought grittily and is still there. If they can break through quickly after lunch, Zimbabwe might be home and dry at around tea-time. If not, the match might go right down to the wire.
Tea-time score: Zimbabwe 298 and 311/9 dec; New Zealand 207 and 223/6 (Cairns 40*, Harris 12*).
New Zealand considerably improved their chances of earning a draw by losing only two wickets during the afternoon session. This was despite the loss of Blair Pocock immediately after the interval, when he moved across his stumps and tried to turn a ball from Heath Streak down to ine leg, to be adjudged lbw.
The all-rounders Chris Cairns and Adam Parore fought back with determination. Cairns, better known for his big hitting, defended staunchly throughout the session, just occasionally launching into a stroke of class and power, notably a ferocious pull for six off the first ball of Adam Huckle's afternoon spell. Parore was more aggressive, being particularly severe on Paul Strang when he strayed towards leg stump, sweeping or pulling through midwicket. Early in his innings he was rather lucky to flick a ball uppishly close to Gavin Rennie at short leg. There was some controversy on the field, with both Parore and Andy Flower losing their composure somewhat, and in the end Alistair Campbell apparently appealed to umpire Cooray to intervene. Parore was given out lbw immediately after reaching an impressive fifty, moving down the pitch but hit on the back pad; as he departed, he pointed his bat at the group of celebrating fielders, apparently in response to something he heard, and replied in kind, then had a minor run-in with some spectators on his return to the dressing room. The exact details of the problem have not yet been revealed.
With Chris Harris hanging on until tea, Zimbabwe will have to work hard to take the last four wickets in the final session. If the match is drawn, there will be two contributory factors: Zimbabwe's delayed declaration and the lax attitude of the umpires towards New Zealand's time-wasting yesterday.
Final score: Zimbabwe 298 and 311/9 dec; New Zealand 207 and 304/8. Match drawn.
Chris Cairns stood in the breach between Zimbabwe and their second Test victory, with gallant assistance from the lower order. The match finished in subdued disappointment for the home side, as the New Zealanders successfully fought through to the last ditch.
From a moral point of view, it can be argued that New Zealand did not deserve to draw the match after their tactics yesterday: the laws of cricket state that all kinds of time- wasting are unfair, and it could not be plainer than that. On the other hand, Zimbabwe handicapped their cause by delaying their declaration yesterday, and lost a further ten minutes for the change of innings when they did not declare at tea. They were also perhaps fortunate to have several umpiring decisions in their favour today -- four lbw decisions were granted -- when the batsmen would sometimes be given the benefit of the doubt. Two rather difficult slip catches were missed during the day, but they were undoubtedly the better team in this match.
Chris Cairns and Chris Harris continued to defy the Zimbabwe bowlers after tea, with Cairns showing admirable restraint throughout, and unerringly choosing the occasional right ball to hit. Harris, however, showed signs of impatience with his role, and looked less secure: at 3.43 he stretched far forward to be given out lbw. Daniel Vettori gave further indication of his fine temperament: he has little knowledge of how to play leg- spin, but he hung on with determination as Zimbabwe tried to exploit his weakness -- although they could have crowded him more -- and learnt a lot in his stay at the crease.
The last hour began with the score on 268 for seven. Vettori continued to resist until he was out to a low catch at silly mid-on, to be replaced by Shayne O'Connor. It was a fearsome baptism in Test cricket for this young man who was also called to bowl long spells of economical overs yesterday, but his nerve did not break. Most of the final overs went to the spinners, and over 120 overs were bowled in the six hours' play. Amid frenetic Zimbabwe appealing for close catches and stifled by fielders, he played out the last over safely. It was a great disappointment for Zimbabwe, but they cannot fail to admire the courage and determination of the Kiwis. There was some consolation in the Man of the Match award, for which Grant Flower was the obvious choice.
The next Test, at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo, begins on Thursday. Zimbabwe's determination will have increased, if anything, while New Zealand, better acclimatised, may well be sterner opposition during the early stages of the match. Again, it would be risky to predict a result.