Zimbabwe's bowlers made life a struggle for the West Indies' batsmen on the first day of their inaugural Test here yesterday on a day in which the weather played the most significant role.
Favoured by the toss on a well-grassed pitch and in steamy weather that encouraged seam and swing, the home team were restricted to 59 for 2 from 28.1 overs by the time the high humidity inevitably turned to rain 10 minutes after lunch. Play had not resumed by tea and, as the weather closed in, there was little prospect of more play.
With Brian Lara, the heart of the West Indies batting, reportedly preparing for a session of stress therapy in a New York clinic and absent from the Test team for the first time since 1992, it was a crucial early advantage for the Zimbabweans.
Heath Streak, their only bowler with over 100 Test wickets, gave them the ideal start and himself an early 26th birthday present with the wicket of Adrian Griffith, one of seven left-handers in the West Indies order, who fell lbw defending uncertainly to the third ball of the match.
Streak, Henry Olonga, Mpumelelo Mbangwa and Neil Johnson offered the other opener, the right-handed Sherwin Campbell, and the tall left-handed debutant Chris Gayle little peace after that, observing the full length and direct line required by conditions.
Campbell, in his 37th Test, had been obliged to battle for nine runs off 75 balls when the weather intervened. Gayle, 20, came through a difficult scoreless period of 38 balls in which he was put down at third slip by Murray Goodwin off Mbangwa when on six and gained the better of several lbw appeals to bat with increasing freedom and confidence.
Gayle had stroked six off-side boundaries and dominated a partnership of 44 when confusion with Campbell over a second run ended his promising innings. Belatedly sent back by his partner after a stroke into the covers, Gayle just failed to make his ground as bowler Johnson broke the wicket from Brian Murphy's throw.
An opener by upbringing, Gayle is one of the emerging young players the West Indies are hoping will solve the batting problems that led to their dismissal for under 200 in five innings in their eight Tests last year. He was the leading batsman and the linchpin in Jamaica's triumph in this season's domestic Busta Cup with 623 runs at an average of 56.63 and handled a difficult assignment yesterday in level-headed fashion.
First day; Zimbabwe won toss
West Indies - First Innings A F G Griffith lbw b Streak 0 S L Campbell not out 9 C H Gayle run out (Murphy-Johnson) 33 S Chanderpaul not out 8 Extras (nb 7) 7 Total (for 2, 26 overs) 57 Fall: 1-5, 2-49. To bat: J C Adams, W W Hinds, R D Jacobs, C E L Ambrose, F A Rose, R D King, C A Walsh.
Bowling (to date): Streak 10-3-22-1 (nb 5); Olonga 7-3-11-0 (nb 1); Mbangwa 6-2-15-0; Johnson 3-1-9-0 (nb 1).
Zimbabwe: A Flower, G W Flower, N C Johnson, T R Gripper, M W Goodwin, A D R Campbell, S V Carlisle, H H Streak, B A Murphy, M Mbangwa, H K Olonga.
Umpires: S Bucknor (WI) and G Sharp (Eng).