Andy Flower, the Zimabwe captain, battled his way to a crucial century, thanks to the generosity of the West Indies fielders, to secure a lead of 49 for Zimbabwe on the third day of the First Test here yesterday.
Already the beneficiary of two difficult chances to third slip and gully on the second afternoon, the left-handed Flower escaped twice more yesterday on his way to his seventh hundred in his 40th Test. He eventually ran out of partners, and was left unbeaten on 113 after seven hours, 10 minutes and 290 balls of determined resistance.
Zimbabwe lost their last four wickets for four runs and were dismissed for 236 to end another rain-shortened day during which the initiative swung fascinatingly from one side to the other.
The pitch, slow from the start, is still in relatively good shape but can be expected to become increasingly inconsistent in bounce. A last-day target of anything over 220 would be far from straight-forward.
Zimbabwe would have been nowhere in this game without their solid captain and the largesse of the West Indian fielders. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, at third slip, put him down high to his right off Courtney Walsh's fourth ball of the day before he had added to his overnight 52. He had scored only eight more when Chris Gayle, at first slip, let an easier edged offerering off Curtly Ambrose burst through his grasp immediately following the second break for rain, which also caused an hour and 25 minutes delay after lunch.
Flower had also gained umpire Steve Bucknor's favourable verdict the previous day on what seemed a palpable catch at the wicket off the glove from Walsh before he had made a run, but such alarms never distracted him from his purpose. His off-side strength was confirmed by the accumulation of 11 of his 12 boundaries between third man and mid-off.
He came to the wicket just before tea on the second afternoon at a potential crisis of 27 for 3 and shared two vital partnerships. He and the right-handed opener Trevor Gripper put on 117 for the fourth wicket before a slip catch finally stuck in the hands, allowing Ambrose to dislodge Gripper for a fighting 41.
Ambrose, who finished with 4 for 42 off 25 overs, immediately removed the left-handed Alistair Campbell second ball to wicket-keeper Ridley Jacobs' low catch and bowled Stuart Carlisle in the last over before tea with Zimbabwe still 23 short of the modest West Indies total of 187.
It seemed the West Indies had seized the advantage, especially as the second new ball was taken immediately on resumption. But their earlier efforts had sapped the energy of the ageing Ambrose and Walsh and, with Franklyn Rose off the field for a treatment to a toe injury, Flower and Heath Streak were able to bat comfortably in a stand of 68 that lasted just under two hours.
The new captain, Jimmy Adams, took to defensive tactics and turned to the off-spin of Gayle, his 20-year-old newcomer, in a desperate effort for a breakthrough. Gayle has proved a valuable find. He batted confidently for 33 on the opening day and now had Streak neatly taken at slip, edging a drive, and rounded off things by bowling Henry Olonga and Pom Mbangwa with successive balls.
Flower walked wearily off, disapponted that his dedication had not created a more favourable position for his team. It was further confirmation of his status as one of the contemporary game's finest Test batsmen. Of the current crop only Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Steve Waugh and Saeed Anwar have better averages than his 46 - and he has done it in a team still feeling their way in Test cricket.