HARARE – When a Test match is concluded shortly after lunch on the third day, the losing team understandably has very little to be excited about.
And yet, mi way through the afternoon session on day two, it looked as if we were going to be in for a very interesting match.
After the disappointing batting performance by Zimbabwe on day one, the bowlers stuck to their guns rather nicely and gave themselves an outside chance of causing an upset, when they had accounted for all the big names with just 151 runs on the board.
In fact, such was the enthusiasm shown by the fielders, that they probably felt that a first innings lead was on the cards.
But, the brute strength of captain Darren Sammy and the finesse of Denesh Ramdin put pay to those thoughts, thanks to their partnership of 106 for the seventh wicket.
What was so impressive about the partnership was that, despite the trouble they found themselves in, both Ramdin and in particular Sammy went about restoring the innings in their usual positive manner.
Sammy was quick to play down his match changing innings, saying that he was lucky enough to be given a few loose balls, which he took full advantage of.
What he said was absolutely true of course, and that was what was so impressive.
So often, teams who are in trouble tend to go into survival mode and forget about scoring, focusing purely on occupying the crease.
Sammy’s innings of 73 off just 69 deliveries wasn’t just about brute strength and counter attacking, but he clearly made up his mind that one of the bowlers was going to be targeted, and the unfortunate bowler was Graeme Cremer.
Cremer would have been quietly confident after his figures of 79-7 in the three-day warm-up match, and one can only hope that his confidence didn’t take the same battering as his bowling figures did.
Zimbabwe’s middle order on the other hand, went about their business in a very circumspect manner. This may have been due to the fact that none of the middle order with the exception of Malcolm Waller had made runs in the warm-up match, and, would have been a little low on confidence.
There were a few articles that suggested that Regis Chakabva played an innings of quality, but in truth, he simply delayed the inevitable by blocking, proding and poking his way to 17 off 80 plus deliveries, before meekly surrendering his wicket.
Craig Ervine was just as guilty, as he played an absolute nothing shot to a very ordinary bowler, Marlon Samuels.
Sadly for Zimbabwe, this ordinary bowler went on to record career best figures of 4-13, as Zimbabwe lost four wickets for the addition of just 15 runs.
What was so disappointing about the demise, in both innings, was the gentle nature in which the batsmen got themselves out.
Trying to work the ball away on the leg side and getting leading edges which were gleefully accepted by the fielders.
The positives to talk about in the batting was the way in which the top order conducted themselves in the first innings, and special mention must go to Tino Mawoyo who looked a totally different player than the Tino Mawoyo we saw in the third ODI.
In the first innings, Mawoyo looked compact and was also not afraid to put his body on the line against the fast bowlers.
His innings was good in the sense that his shot selection was outstanding, mixing attack and defence before the off spinner Shane Shillingford got the better of him with a ball that bounced on him.
A batsman who needs to be taken aside and spoken to is Vusi Sibanda.
It is becoming abundantly clear that Sibanda struggles with full and straight deliveries as Kemar Roach proved in the first innings when Sibanda missed a full and straight delivery.
Sibanda is arguably the country’s best batsman, but sadly his record makes him look pretty ordinary at times.
Hamilton Masakadza continues to blow hot and cold, while Brendan Taylor must surely be feeling more than just the West Indian heat as his heart breaking form continues to plague him.
Fortunately, Taylor has matured and toughened up considerably and it wouldn’t be surprising if he found his form in the second test match.
The two seamers Kyle Jarvis and debutant Tendai Chatara were steady throughout the first innings of the West Indies, though it is sad to see that they were unable to maintain the pace and aggression throughout the day.
Both started off at a lively pace, with Chatara clocking 140KPH on the odd occasion. But as the day wore on, his pace dropped rather alarmingly and in fact, when he came back for his last spell, he was bowling at a mere 117/119KPH. Which was what Hamilton Masakadza was bowling at.
This I find very disappointing, because Chatara was picked for his extra pace.
If for example Keagan Meth or Tawanda Mpariwa had been playing, one would be more understanding because they rely on swing and accuracy, whereas Chatara is supposed to be a slightly quicker bowler.
So why is it that the country has never had a genuine fast bowler?
In the past, there have been bowlers who have occasionally clocked the mid 140’s, but once again they were very inconsistent.
So maybe we have to resign ourselves to the fact that we won’t be producing any fast bowlers in the immediate future.
If that is the case, we need to work with what we have. Kyle Jarvis seems to have got his swing back which makes him a dangerous contender with the new ball, while Hamilton Masakadza proved to be a surprise package as he accounted for both Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels.
So if the bowlers aren’t able to consistently bowl quick, there must be a reason. The first reason that springs to mind is that they simply don’t practice enough.
We see to many wayward deliveries from the seamers, which begs the question.
Do the seamers actually work on skills such as line and length? Or do they just run in and bowl to the batsmen in the nets.
So, in a nutshell, the result was a very disappointing one, given the fact that up to tea on day two Zimbabwe were still in the match.
But their problems against spin bowling still continue to haunt them, and one wonders if they will be able to rectify the situation in such a short time.
Another problem facing the team is that Regis Chakabva seems to have injured himself, and there is talk of him flying home.
If this talk is true, this will leave the team with an additional headache.
Will they burden Taylor with the extra responsibility of keeping wicket? Yes, he does keep wicket in the shorter forms, but how will he go over five days? That is to say if the Test lasts five days.
Will Zimbabwe cricket be able to replace Chakabva in such a short time? If so, who would they consider?
The only wicket keeper batsman who may be considered would be Charles Coventry, who kept for the Tuskers in the Logan cup.
But that is a high risk selection, as Coventry’s attacking style often leads to his downfall.
On the flip side, Coventry may just be the man to counter attack the spin of Shane Shillingford.
All of this is pure speculation of course, and Taylor will more than likely wear the gloves. – Dean du Plessis