THE ENGLAND A bowlers took three wickets in the space of 14 balls as Zimbabwe slipped to 94 for 4 by the end of the second day of the second "Test" here yesterday.
Dean Cosker struck twice, and Andy Flintoff and Steve Harmison grabbed a wicket apiece as the tourists took confident steps towards defending their first innings total of 383.
Mal Loye added 11 to his overnight score before falling lbw to Andy Whittall for 133. His splendid innings - which lasted just over six hours, came off 295 balls and included 19 boundaries - took in an 81-run partnership with Vikram Solanki for the fifth wicket.
But after Loye bowed out, Graeme Swann came in to raise the tempo. His second scoring shot was a six lifted over midwicket off the bowling of Bryan Strang. He cut the next ball for four over slips and inspired Solanki to play some exquisite strokes of his own. His 50 took 122 balls and arrived with his seventh four.
Solanki was batting with a stiff neck, having been struck by a football on Tuesday night. He was very nearly prevented from resuming his innings and could not take his place in the field later in the day.
After an eye-catching performance his demise was a disappointment, scooping the ball to midwicket off Andy Whittall for 65.
Swann soon followed, driving to mid-off for 24, to leave England at 335 for 7. However, Chris Read marshalled the tail intelligently, receiving valiant support from Cosker as they put on 35 runs for the eighth wicket before Cosker was out for 11 off Guy Whittall.
Read hit a driven six over long-on off Strang, but was eventually out when he pulled a full toss from the same bowler to the square-leg boundary when on 47.
When Zimbabwe began their reply, there seemed little trouble for the batsmen. They had comfortably negotiated 16 overs when Flintoff hurried a ball through and Trevor Gripper failed to remove his bat from the line as intended. Read took the resulting catch.
Trevor Madondo was dropped by Loye at slip off Jason Lewry before he had scored, but England soon struck with three quick wickets.
Craig Wishart was trapped lbw for 34. Then Harmison was too quick for Madondo and, in the next over, Guy Whittall was bowled without scoring to leave the hosts trailing by 289 runs.
Read was pleased with another good day for him and for England. "We wanted to get up to near the 400-mark and we almost achieved that, so it was good," he said.
"We feel we're in a strong position. We've got to go out with all guns blazing and it would be nice to have them out sometime in the second session [today]."
Second day; England A won toss
ENGLAND A - First Innings
(Overnight: 256 for 4)
M B Loye lbw b G J Whittall 133
V S Solanki c Carlisle b A R Whittall 65
G P Swann c Madondo b A R Whittall 24
C M W Read c Gripper b Strang 47
D A Cosker c Gurr b G J Whittall 11
J D Lewry c Gurr b Strang 1
S J Harmison not out 0
Extras (2b, 5lb, 6nb) 13
Total (147.2 overs) 383
Fall: 1-12, 2-134, 3-178, 4-189, 5-270, 6-313, 7-326, 8-361, 9-374.
Bowling: Blignaut 20-4-62-0; Strang 37.2-12-107-4; G J Whittall 16-6- 33-2; A R Whittall 36-6-88-4; Huckle 35-12-80-0; Viljoen 3-0-6-0.
ZIMBABWE A - First Innings
T R Gripper c Read b Flintoff 12
C B Wishart lbw b Cosker 34
T N Madondo c Swann b Harmison 5
G J Whittall b Cosker 0
F V Carlisle not out 18
D P Viljoen not out 20
Extras (2lb, 3nb) 5
Total (for 4, 41 overs) 94
Fall: 1-36 2-54 3-55 4-55
To Bat: C P Gurr, *A R Whittall, B C Strang, A M Blignaut, A G Huckle.
Bowling: Lewry 13-6-28-0; Harmison 9-3-16-1; Flintoff 8-4-13-1; Cosker 9-2-20-2; Swann 2-0-15-0.
Umpires: G R Evans and E J Gilmour.