Frozen in Time

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 December, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 December, 2004, 12:00am

England opener Nick Knight peers down the wicket at Zimbabwe bowler Heath Streak knowing he needs a big over - 13 runs - to win the first-ever Test between the two sides and complete a remarkable run chase.

Few envisage such a frenetic finish earlier in the match. Needing no motivation against the only country to vote against their inclusion as a Test-playing nation, and led by a resolute century by vice-captain Andy Flower, a determined Zimbabwe hold the upper hand on the opening two days and well into the third before their grip is loosened by Nasser Hussain and John Crawley.

Both complete centuries, Hussain after being dropped first ball by Stuart Carlisle, and help England overhaul Zimbabwe's first-innings score of 376 on the fourth day and finish 30 runs to the good. With not much in it and a sedate draw on the cards, the complexion of the match suddenly changes when Zimbabwe's top order collapse and, at the end of the fourth day, they are tottering on 107 for five in their second innings.

The game has turned on its head. England have Zimbabwe against the ropes for the first time in the match and are sniffing victory. A brave rearguard action led by half centuries from debutant Andy Waller and Guy Whittall keep England at bay for almost three sessions on the final day before the hosts are finally bowled out for 234.

This leaves England needing 205 to win in 37 overs and a frenetic run-chase ensues. Despite losing captain Mike Atherton early, England meet the challenge head-on with a gallant second-wicket stand of 137 in almost even time between Alec Stewart and Nick Knight (pictured), before Stewart's crucial dismissal for 73.

At tea, England are 36 for one from five overs. Halfway through their allotted 37 overs they are 106 for one and coasting. It is almost at this precise point, however, that the home team decide that saving the Test is more important than preserving the spirit of the game. Skipper Alistair Campbell deploys all his fielders on the boundary and instructs his bowlers to bowl wide on both sides of the wickets, severely restricting the batsmen's scoring opportunities..

Still the scene is set for a nail-biting finale when the sixth-wicket pair of Knight and Darren Gough are tasked with scoring 13 off Streak's last over. Knight smashes the third ball for a six, Streak bowls a blatant wide next ball which local umpire Ian Robinson fails to call and it boils down to three off the last ball.

Though Knight initially thinks he might have struck a boundary with a speared offside drive, Carlisle cuts it off inside the rope and Darren Gough is run out when he has barely turned for the third. The match ends in a remarkable draw, made more remarkable by the fact that it's the first-ever drawn Test in which the scores end up tied. (In the two famous 'tied' Tests, each side had finished two innings so neither was considered a draw).

It is gut-wrenching for Knight, whose 96 not out from 118 deliveries is a marvellous effort despite his general inability to solve the problems of the leg-spinner, Paul Strang, bowling wide outside his leg stump. David Lloyd, the coach, is incandescent about Zimbabwe's negative tactics. 'We murdered them and they know it,' he rages afterwards. 'We flippin' hammered them. One more ball and we'd have walked it.' And he says it again, and again and again. 'They [Zimbabwe] have got to live with that,' he adds.

Campbell is perfectly happy to live with it. 'When you're trying to save a Test match, you use every trick in the book,' he said. 'Other sides have done it, and I'll defend it to the hilt.'