Neil Wagner claimed a third career five-for to tear through Zimbabwe’s line-up, as the hosts suffered a second collapse in the post-lunch session. After losing three wickets for one run – they tumbled from 35 for 1 to 36 for 4 in the morning – Zimbabwe lost four wickets with the score on 72, as they crashed from 72 for 4 to 72 for 8. The Report by Firdose Moonda
Donald Tiripano and Prince Masvaure saved the hosts some blushes with a ninth-wicket stand worth 48, the highest of their innings. They avoided the embarrassment of being bowled out for under 100 for a ninth time in Test cricket but are still in danger of posting less than 155, which is their lowest first-innings score in Bulawayo.
The destroyer-in-chief was Wagner, who employed a short-ball strategy throughout his marathon 13-over spell that was broken by the lunch interval. He also extracted surprising bounce from a surface known for being placid. Wagner was chasing career-best figures and may return to try and claim them in the final session, which Zimbabwe will hope to see out.
Whatever they manage, it will not take away from the concerns in the batting line-up, which were exposed by Cremer’s decision to bat first. Although that is the usual strategy at Queens, given the inexperience of his group, Cremer may have thought twice about putting them in the firing line against an aggressive New Zealand attack.
In the absence of Vusi Sibanda, who is occupying a position in the commentary box, and the injured Tino Mawoyo, Zimbabwe opened with Brian Chari and debutant Chamu Chibhabha, and Tim Southee did not allow them any easing in. His first ball swerved away from Chari and was edged for four. His second was the same, and was edged to Martin Guptill at second slip.
Zimbabwe’s most capped player Hamilton Masakadza was in after only two balls but was immediately confident outside the off stump. He took his time getting in, and played 15 balls before he got his first runs. Masakadza and Chibhabha built steadily and both played the pull shot well. With Trent Boult not finding the same movement as Southee, Kane Williamson made an interesting change.
Spin was introduced in the 12th over in the form of Mitchell Santner. At the other end, Wagner took over and began his assault in the second hour of play. Chibhabha was caught off an uncertain pull to mid-wicket. Six balls later Masakadza gave away Zimbabwe’s best chance of recovery when he gifted Santner a return catch.
Then, Wagner hit Sean Williams on the helmet with the first ball of his next over, breaking the grille in the process. Clearly rattled, Williams had to deal with another short ball immediately after. He pulled, the ball hit his helmet again and carried to midwicket. He was given out even as he shook his head and pointed to the helmet in explanation.
Still, Wagner offered no let-up. He hit Craig Ervine in the rib cage and Sikandar Raza on the thumb while also testing both batsmen’s ability to get out of the way. They survived to lunch, and then enjoyed a profitable period early in the second session. Raza drove well and, along with Ervine, steadied Zimbabwe. Then disaster struck.
Ervine stepped out of his crease to loft Santner over the infield but made no contact and was too far out to get back when BJ Watling effected the stumping. Five balls later, Raza succumbed to a Wagner short ball, fending it to Latham at midwicket.
Wagner proved he is not a one-trick pony when he set Regis Chakabva up with a short ball and then delivered one on a length, which slanted across the Zimbabwean keeper and took the edge on its way through to Watling. Zimbabwe’s captain, far from leading by example, was also done in by a short ball, which he inside-edged to short leg. That scalp gave Wagner his third Test five-for and put him on a hat-trick.
Debutant Masvaure watched the carnage from the other end before he had faced a ball but showed the temperament to suggest he could bat higher up. He and Tiripano kept Wagner out, forced Williamson to bring back both Boult and Southee, and even dealt well with legspinner Ish Sodhi in a lesson to the rest of their line-up.
Tiripano faced more balls than any of his team-mates and the effect of that showed. He found the boundary three times and struck one mighty blow, when he sent a Sodhi delivery into the stands, while surpassing his previous highest Test score of 15*.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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