An extraordinary unbeaten partnership of 144 between Shane Dowrich and Jason Holder not only rescued the West Indies from a precarious position at 230/7 but has put them in the pound seats in Bulawayo.
The visitors now have a valuable 48 run lead at the end of the third day and, with Dowrich (75 not out) and Holder (71 not out) still at the crease, appear solid favourites to take a 2-0 clean sweep of this well contested series.
The Windies began the day on 78/1 and Kieran Powell (90) batted well with night-watchman Davendra Bishoo (23) before he was the second of those two to fall shortly before lunch, when a lapse of concentration saw him slashing and edging a short ball from a fiery Chris Mpofu (1-46).
But it was after lunch that off-spinner Sikander Raza (5-82) tore through the middle order and put Zimbabwe in a wonderful position when he bowled Shai Hope (40) and the visitors stumbled to be 7 down and still 96 runs behind.
Enter captain Holder, batting at number nine because of Bishoo’s promotion to nightwatchman on day two, and suddenly a surface that had created so much action appeared to play so very easily.
The visitors may be only 48 runs ahead but Zimbabwe did not take a wicket in the second half of the day and they looked well and truly demoralised by the time they found refuge for their droopy shoulders in the dressing room at stumps.
Wasted reviews and missed opportunities cost Zimbabwe dearly as catches were put down, at least twice by the wicketkeeper Regis Chakabva, twice by Cremer off his own bowling, and patches of other sloppiness and or bad luck.
Thing’s just didn’t go the hiosme side’s way towards the end of the day.
At the post-match press conference, Sikander Raza, who took five consecutive scalps with some probing off-spin, said: “It is humbling to see the team doing well and to be taking a five-fer.
“I’m a batter who can bowl and being an all-rounder comes with the responsibility that you must do both.
On the fact that he had Holder trapped LBW on 11 but umpire Dharmasena believed there had been edge, Raza added: “It is what it is – I thought I deserved the wicket but (it was partly my fault as) I used up the reviews with a poor review earlier.
“Credit to them for batting so well, we tried our best and they just batted and batted.
“When the ball gets softer then there is very little assistance. It was easy to bat on as the day went on, it seemed flatter and flatter with the older ball.
“Depending on the time available, we probably need 270 or 300 ahead to be confident of defending a total in the fourth innings.”
Kieran Powell, who was upset to be dismissed in the 90’s, noted that the wicket had not deteriorated since the second day.
He remarked that batsmen need to be very patient due to its slow nature but there are no demons in it. “A big lead of 100 or more will help us to push for a result.”
The Windies are the favoured side going into the fourth day but all three results are well and truly alive in this fascinating Test match.
By Nick Sadleir in Bulawayo @nicksadleir