Zimbabwe hammered by Hooper

Zimbabwe 155 and 112-0 v West Indies 559-6 dec
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The Independent Online

These are troubled times in Zimbabwe, and their cricket has not escaped the turmoil.

Front-page headlines usually dominated by the uneasy political situation, the controversy over the redistribution of white farms and the faltering economy have given way in the past fortnight to the problems of a sport that rarely merits media attention.

The euphoria of a month ago that followed an outstanding Test victory in Harare over an Indian team that had just defeated the mighty Australians has suddenly evaporated in a welter of controversy over team selection, administrative racial infighting and players' fees.

All this has been compounded by crucial injuries, most significantly to the thumb of Andy Flower, their one world-class batsman, who was in London last night receiving the International Cricketer of the Year award, instead of here helping his team's desperate cause in the first of two Tests against a resurgent West Indies team.

Such strife off the field has affected performances on it in the triangular one-day series, where they lost all four matches, and over the first three days of the First Test.

West Indies have also had problems, yet responded well to the loss through injury of Brian Lara and Merv Dillon, Cameron Cuffy and Dinanath Ramnarine, three first choice bowlers in the recent home series against South Africa.

Their makeshift bowling exploited careless batting to dismiss Zimbabwe for 155 on the opening day. Their batsmen then indulged themselves to amass 559 for 6 declared on a hard, true, even pitch in the Bulowayo sun.

Zimbabwe made a much better fist of things in their second innings after setting off just before tea 404 behind, and without Stuart Carlisle who broke a finger fielding.

Dion Ebrahim, a compact, 20-year-old right-hander, and the seasoned left-hander Alistair Campbell, in his 51st Test, batted with busy assurance during the 41 overs up to the end of the day, by which time they had advanced 112 runs towards their goal.

Ebrahim, with a duck in the first innings, escaped a chance at 40 to complete his first 50 in his fifth Test. Campbell joined him, unbeaten on 58.

Zimbabwe were initially let down by their batsmen and then taken apart by Chris Gayle, the tall, commanding 21-year-old left-hander, whose maiden Test hundred, 175, featured 34 boundaries, most struck with withering power off both back and front foot.

His opening partnership of 214 with the steady right-hander Daren Ganga was the prelude to Carl Hooper's 10th Test hundred, his first since 1998 and his first as captain.

He was 66 at the start of the day and proceeded to 149. His 18 fours and straight six were stroked with the effortless elegance that has made him one of the most engaging of contemporary batsmen.

Hooper made his Zimbabwean counterpart, Heath Streak, pay for spilling a catch at short extra cover off the left-arm medium-pacer Bryan Strang in the day's third over when on 68. The reprieve allowed him to share successive partnerships of 131 and 100 with Ramnaresh Sarwan and Marlon Samuels, wristy strokes and nimble footwork again Hooper's hallmarks.

Hooper was finally Strang's victim, providing Tatenda Taibu, the impressive 18-year-old wicketkeeper, with his first catch in his debut Test.

Hooper would have been pleased with his hundred, as well as with the batting of the younger players. Gayle is 21, Ganga 22, Sarwan and Samuels both 20. All are the future of West Indies batting and possess obvious potential. They will not find better conditions for run-making than they have here.

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