Henry Blofeld sees a bowler regain peak form just as the going got toughest
Sunday 29 December 1996
A fast bowler's mechanism is a most intricate affair. So many things have to come together at the right time. First, there is the rhythm of the run-up, which enables the bowler to use all the power and energy he has generated in his approach.
Gough sensibly did not try to bowl at his very fastest. It has been a desperately slow pitch and it was so important that he got the ball up to the bat to give it a chance to swing and to bring the batsman on to the front foot. Control was all-important.
It was with measured stride that he went into his final delivery, which was beautifully smooth and was the logical end to his run-up. He was able to swing the ball both ways, an art he has sometimes seemed in recent months to have lost. The late inswinger caused problems to the right-handers and he had the left-handed Andy Flower out leg before with one which moved the other way.
The great hope now is that Gough can remember exactly what caused him suddenly to come into his best form so that he can continue it next month in New Zealand and, even more importantly, during the summer's series against Australia. In this mood, he is a most valuable Test bowler.
England start the fourth day 42 runs behind Zimbabwe and on this slow pitch it will take them some time to knock the deficit off. Although the ball was coming through a shade faster on to the bat on the third afternoon, it is still a pudding of a pitch.
It is a difficult surface on which to score runs at any pace, because it allows so few strokes to be played safely and effectively. But after keeping Zimbabwe's lead to reasonable proportions England might still win, provided that Nick Knight and Alec Stewart can bat through the first session this morning.
Knight is the key player because he is such a fine striker of the ball and loves nothing more than to go for his strokes. Of course, it is a tall order to expect him to do so for a long period on this pitch but if he is still in at lunch today he will probably be well past 50, for that is the way he bats.
He could, therefore, take England to a position which would enable them to declare early on the last morning and embarrass Zimbabwe in the last two-and-a-half sessions. However, with all the time lost to the weather so far and with rain still about, a draw must be the most likely result.
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