Windies ready to fire
The two-test series between the West Indies and Zimbabwe which began yesterday at Kensington Oval, provides the Caribbean cricketers with another opportunity to continue their winning ways against lightweight opposition.
Fresh from sweeping aside both New Zealand and Bangladesh by 2-0 margins, it will be the first time Darren Sammy’s West Indians will be opposing Zimbabwe in Test cricket in a decade.
In six previous Tests, spread over three two-match rubbers, the Windies have never lost to the Zimbabweans, winning four and drawing the other two to maintain their ownership of the Clive Lloyd Trophy. But Zimbabwe weren’t complete push-overs as they should’ve really won two of these Tests, but lacked the killer instinct to prevail.
I was fortunate to be in Trinidad and Tobago to cover the inaugural Test between the teams at the Queen’s Park Oval in 2000 for the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC), which was previously known as the Caribbean News Agency (CANA).
That match was a low-scoring one where it required grit and determination to score runs on a low and slow pitch. It was also very significant as it was the maiden Test of Chris Gayle, who was run out for 33 and got a first-ball second innings “duck”, batting at No.3.
The West Indies eventually won by 35 runs in a thrilling finish by routing the Zimbabweans for a mere 63 runs after setting them what should’ve been a simple target of 99 for victory. Franklyn Rose (4-19) combined with Curtly Ambrose (3-8), Courtney Walsh (2-18) and Reon King (1-11) to demolish Zimbabwe as only opener Grant Fowler had a double-digit score.
Zimbabwe had dominated the early exchanges, bowling out the West Indies for 187 and replying with 236 to gain a first innings lead of 49 runs. Andy Flower, now coach of England, benefited from dropped catches by Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul on 52 and 60 to make a courageous 113 not out, becoming the first player to record a century in Test cricket between the two teams.
West Indies managed only 147 batting a second time, losing their last seven wickets for a mere 32 runs. Fast bowler Heath Streak was the West Indies’ destroyer with a nine-wicket match haul (24-9-45-4 and 17-8-27-5).
After snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, the West Indies, set up by Jimmy Adams’ pedestrian 101 not out which spanned eight hours and 25 minutes as he faced 372 balls, ensured that there won’t be any histrionics in the second Test at Sabina Park, Jamaica. The Windies won handsomely by ten wickets as Zimbabwe capitulated for a paltry 102 in their second innings following Murray Goodwin’s 113 in an encouraging first innings effort of 308.
The following year, the West Indies journeyed to Zimbabwe and piloted by big centuries from Chris Gayle (175) and Carl Hooper (149) in a total of 559-6 declared, again won the opening Test by a massive margin of an innings and 176 runs in Bulawayo.
Left-handed opener Alistair Campbell scored the last of his two Test centuries (103) in Zimbabwe’s second innings total of 228.
That the Zimbabweans earned a draw the second Test in Harare, was due in large measure to then 17-year-old schoolboy Hamilton Masakadza’s maiden century (119) on his Test debut.
Masakadza’s match-saving knock enabled Zimbabwe to post their highest ever total, 563-9 declared, versus the West Indies. It spanned 388 minutes and 316 deliveries and came with his team facing a first innings deficit of 216 runs. That was Masakadza’s only previous Test against the West Indies.
In the first Test on the next trip to Zimbabwe in 2003 in Harare, the West Indies were indebted to their last-wicket pair of Ridley Jacobs (60 not out) and Fidel Edwards (one not ot) for eking out a draw.
Zimbabwe had the luxury of declaring in both innings as fast-bowling allrounder Streak fashioned an unbeaten six-hour 127 at No. 8. With Andy Blignaut, who hammered 91 off 126 balls at No.9, they shared a rousing 168-run eighth-wicket stand, carrying Zimbabwe to a healthy 507-9 declared.
The West Indies replied with 335 to concede a lead of 172 and Zimbabwe declared their second innings at 200-7, setting the visitors a target of 372. Zimbabwe were on course for a historic victory with the West Indies on 204-9 but Jacobs and Edwards, who batted defiantly for 33 balls, denied them by playing out the last 11.5 overs.
The Caribbean side then comfortably triumphed by 128 runs in the second Test at Bulawayo to clinch the series 1-0 following Brian Lara’s masterful 191 off 203 balls.
In that match, Mark Vermeulen became the sixth Zimbabwean to score a Test century against the West Indies with a patient 118. He batted obdurately for over seven hours, facing 304 balls but his efforts couldn’t save the home side from defeat.
Gayle, the highest run-scorer in West Indies-Zimbabwe Tests with 353 runs at an average of 39.22 and Shivnarine Chanderpaul are the only West Indians who have played in all six Tests. Streak was the only Zimbabwean to do so and he distinguished himself with 21 wickets at 24.71 and 288 runs at an average of 41.14.
In the case of Chanderpaul, he would want to set the record right against Zimbabwe as he has batted like a lamb instead of a “Tiger” against them. His average is a mere 28.77 and he has failed to register a Test century with a highest score is 74, which is also his only half-century in nine innings.
Ramnaresh Sarwan, who was not selected for the first Test, has a good record against Zimbabwe with 297 runs at an average of 49.50 in four Tests.
Experienced left-arm spinner Ray Price, who has been brought to the Caribbean specifically for the Test series, has taken 23 wickets, the most by any bowler on either side, in four Tests at 27.95 apiece. He is best remembered for his ten-wicket match haul (37.2-13-73-6 and 38-11-88-4) in the 2003 Harare Test when he just failed to bowl Zimbabwe to their first win against the Windies.
Surprisingly, the Guyanese trio of Reon King (16 wickets in four Tests at 23.75), Colin Stuart (12 wickets in two Tests at 18.50) and Neil McGarrell (12 wickets in two Tests at 20.41) are the leading West Indian bowlers in Test cricket against Zimbabwe.
• Ezra Stuart is an experienced sports journalist who has been writing on West Indies cricket since 1990.