Zimbabwe have never won a Test against West Indies and have remained winless in last 11 series; there were talks about them scripting history in this series. West Indies, on the other hand, have lost nine back-to-back Test series and for them, Zimbabwe is going to be the place where they can break the losing streak. In short, the winner of the series will carry huge momentum and break their elongated losing streak.
The opening Test at Bulawayo saw a remarkable turnaround as Zimbabwe bounced back emphatically and put West Indies on the back foot. Traditionally, conditions in Zimbabwe are reckoned to assist batting and spin as the game goes on. But, Bulawayo saw the red leather turning from Day 1 onwards, which is rare.
— Hemant (@hemantbuch) October 21, 2017
Zimbabwe are rising as a unit and their recent performances are a testament to it. The return of their most impactful batsman Brendan Taylor and Kyle Jarvis have added some serious firepower to the attack. This was expected to be the start of a new era in Zimbabwe cricket and the spirited side is well on course to achieve it. West Indies were always going to be a tough nut to crack, they did extremely well to register a resounding victory in England, but some incredible spin bowling saw them stumble like nine pins.
It’s just not the batting side that flourishes on partnerships, but also the bowling. Bowlers do hunt in a pair and run through batting line-ups. The camaraderie between Stuart Broad-James Anderson, Ravichandran Ashwin-Ravindra Jadeja, Tim Southee-Trent Boult and Mitchell Starc-Josh Hazlewood are well known in contemporary cricket. It would be very difficult for a bowler to put pressure from one end alone if the other one is leaking runs. It is pivotal to have the pressure maintained from the other end as well in order to put the opposition under the pump.
Zimbabwean spinners gelled extremely well in order to pull things, but the partnership between Graeme Cremer and Sean Williams was mesmerising to watch. The duo hunted in a pair and was equally supported by other bowlers. When these two were putting the hard yards together, West Indies lost six wickets to them and overall they accounted for seven.
The fact that Williams is a part-time spin option complimented Cremer so well and didn’t let the momentum drift away was inspiring to watch. He had three scalps under his belt, which will only add depth to Zimbabwe’s attack. Sikandar Raza also had a solitary scalp to his name as Zimbabwe’s part-time spinners accounted for four wickets between them.
At Bulawayo, West Indies won the toss and opted to bat first. Jarvis made his international return a memorable one and drew the first blood in the form of Kraigg Brathwaite after which, Kyle Hope was undone by Solomon Mire. Zimbabwean seamers showed good discipline with the ball and did well in chipping two early wickets on a surface, which didn’t have a lot to offer for seamers.
At 35 for 2, West Indies needed a solid partnership in order to make a comeback. Shai Hope and Kieran Powell weathered the early storm and stitched a much-needed 75-run stand between them. Just when Zimbabwe were losing the plot, skipper Cremer provided the breakthrough as he had Powell caught at short leg.
Shai Hope stood his ground at one end as West Indies looked to rebuild with Roston Chase at the other. Just when the partnership started to look threatening, Sikandar Raza got rid of Chase for 31. This was the start of another collapse for West Indies as they lost seven wickets for just 45 runs. Moments later, Jermaine Blackwood was deceived beautifully by Cremer and Chakabva did well in getting the bails off in a flash.
Williams got into action and picked the next three West Indies wickets. He had Shane Dowrich, Jason Holder and Devendra Bishoo’s wickets with his handy left-arm spin to put his side in total command. Cremer finished off the job by claiming last two wickets as West Indies were folded for a modest 219.
Congratulations Captain @GraemeCremer on taking 50 test wickets in just 17 tests. Don’t forget you are on hat-trick. #ZIMvWI
— Dr Satendra Singh, MD (@drsitu) October 21, 2017
There was help for the spinners in the surface and Zimbabwean bowlers exploited it well. Most of the West Indies batsmen played for the wrong line as Cremer and Williams bowled with guile. Williams was quoted in a report from ESPNCricinfo saying, “When they were 179-odd for three, we were not expecting them to be bowled out for 45 runs later. Between Cremer and I, we just tried to keep the squeeze on as much as possible, especially to Hope because we knew his hundred as coming up and we didn’t want him to have any strike. We kept the squeeze on and it worked for us.”
One of the fantastic things about Zimbabwe was their astuteness with reviews. They used it wisely and it paid off. Zimbabwe batsmen have looked cautious so far and will have the challenge to overhaul West Indies’ 219 as the pitch turned from Day 1. They have the batting to gain a healthy lead. West Indies have only one specialist spinner in the attack – Devendra Bishoo and it will be interesting to see if the part-timers would be able to chip in just like Williams and Raza did. As of now, Cremer and Williams have given Zimbabwe a golden chance to strengthen their hold in the Test.