BULAWAYO – West Indies tightened their grip on day three of the first Test against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo today, with opener Kraigg Brathwaite’s 86 and Roston Chase’s unbeaten 91 forming the backbone of their 369 for 8 at the close of play.
With the Hope brothers and Devendra Bishoo also chipping in with handy runs, West Indies extended their lead to 429 runs by stumps. With two full days remaining, Zimbabwe have a mountain to climb.
Where Brathwaite’s batting in the morning was doggedly purposeful, Chase’s in the afternoon was enterprising and, at times, adventurous. Marshalling the lower order, he was in sight of a Test hundred when Bishoo’s dismissal, six short of a maiden first-class half-century, brought the day to a close.
It was apparent first thing this morning, with reverse swing, spin and inconsistent bounce available for the bowlers, that batting would not be easy. But Brathwaite soaked up the early pressure, and the patience exhibited by West Indies’ top order stood in stark contrast to Zimbabwe’s jittery effort on Sunday.
West Indies may have had cause for some nerves early on as Sean Williams and Kyle Jarvis beat Brathwaite’s outside edge. Jarvis’ fourth delivery of the day elicited a clear puff of dust as it hit the deck, scooting through at shin height, and was a sign of the increasing mischief in this pitch. Yet Zimbabwe did not use the conditions, or Jarvis’ early dismissal of Kyle Hope with an indipper, as well as they could have.
Luck played its part: there were multiple half-chances, almosts and what-ifs in the first hour. But Brathwaite was also dropped twice in consecutive overs off Graeme Cremer before lunch, allowing him to continue taking advantage of the bad balls when they came.
Shai Hope’s dead-bat defence and steady accumulation held Zimbabwe at bay. Brathwaite soon brought up a solid fifty, off 137 deliveries. Brathwaite had been comfortable shuffling right across his stumps for much of the morning, making the majority of his runs on the leg side off both spin and pace. The tactic eventually got him in trouble, however, and Zimbabwe finally stopped the third wicket partnership at 67 when Sikandar Raza got one to spin in sharply from outside off stump to trap Brathwaite lbw.
With West Indies’ lead advancing past 250, Zimbabwe took the new ball and once again both Jarvis and Chris Mpofu extracted inconsistent bounce from a length. Jarvis removed Shai Hope for 44 with a delivery that skidded and nipped back in, but Chase continued picking the right ball to hit, moving into the 30s with a massive hit over long off.
At the other end, Zimbabwe continued to chip away. Mirroring his dismissal in the first innings, Jermaine Blackwood was well stumped by Regis Chakabva – the fourth time he has been stumped in his last seven innings. Shane Dowrich took the lead past 300 with a flowing cover drive, before he, too, fell to spin, edging Williams to Masakadza at slip.
Chase, looking particularly strong through the covers, raced to fifty from 69 deliveries and captain Jason Holder seemed in even more of a rush. He hit his very first ball – and the first ball after tea – for six over long off, and immediately followed that up with a crashing drive through extra cover. He fell for a 23-ball 24, but Chase held firm and found an able partner in Devendra Bishoo, who swept, pulled and drove gamely as the eighth wicket stand passed fifty in just 74 deliveries.
Both batsmen opened up as the lead ballooned beyond 400, and the partnership stretched to 92 – the highest stand of the match – before Bishoo slogged Cremer to deep midwicket, thereby falling one short of his highest Test score and not far from a maiden Test fifty. But with two full days remaining in the Test match, West Indies are set up for a huge win and Zimbabwe have a mountain to climb.