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Williams hits century as Zimbabwe go down fighting

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A determined fightback by Zimbabwe, spearheaded by a marvellous century from Sean Williams, enabled the home team to go down with honour to the powerful New Zealand team at Queens Sports Club today. The final margin of defeat was an innings and 117 runs, but this was a much smaller margin than had looked likely for most of this match.

The spectators who turned up at the ground were rewarded by a memorable batting display, and the match lasted until the tea interval.

The hosts began the day on 121 for five wickets, still 291 runs behind the New Zealanders, and their main hope of making a good fight of it lay in Craig Ervine, who was not out overnight with 49, in partnership with Graeme Cremer, who had 14.

Ervine turned the second ball of the day backward of the square-leg umpire to take a single and reach his first Test fifty, which came off only 57 balls — quicker than had been achieved by any of the New Zealanders to reach fifty in this match.

However, in the next over, bowled by Trent Boult, Ervine was gone, given out caught at the wicket as he played at a ball just outside his off stump; 124 for six.

It was all the more galling for Zimbabweans when the replay showed that he had not in fact hit the ball.

This brought in Williams, who, along with Regis Chakabva, was now fit enough to bat after an illness which had prevented him from fielding or bowling during the previous two days.

Williams took up the fight from the start, hitting two fours through the off side in the following over.

New Zealand soon tried to snare him into offering a catch attempting to drive to the off, but he avoided it and continued to stamp his authority on the game, especially when the spinners came on.

Cremer for his part was content to hold up his end, and was particularly impressive in his determination not to yield to the usual bodily assault of Neil Wagner, especially in view of the fact that he had his arm broken earlier this year.

Williams ran to his fifty off 63 balls and continued to keep his concentration, fight off the remaining effects of his illness and keep the score moving.

He drove well, pulled to leg, slashed through the off-side field and even played a few successful ramp strokes over the slips.

At lunch the two were still there, Williams with 73 and Cremer 32.  The score was 221 for six wickets and, for the first time in the match, Zimbabwe were clear winners of a session.

After lunch the pair continued to make progress for a while in their respective roles, Williams attacking the bowling and Cremer keeping his end up.

Unfortunately the partnership of 118, a new record for Zimbabwe against New Zealand, was brought to an end by further controversy.

Cremer was adjudged lbw to Ish Sodhi, to a ball that hit him just above the pad, the replay showing that the ball was likely to clear the top of the stumps.

Cremer had played a superb fighting captain’s innings and it was sad to have it ended in such circumstances.

Williams was at this stage on 93, and joined by his fellow invalid Chakabva.  He was not much longer in reaching his century, although it came from a thick edge to third man.

He received a great ovation for his magnificent innings, which took him only 106 balls.  This is the fastest Test century ever scored by a Zimbabwean, beating the 107 balls by Neil Johnson.

Chakabva supported Williams in a stand of 35 before he was bowled by Tim Southee for 11.  He moved a little too far across his stumps and the bowler sneaked a ball through to hit his leg stump.

After reaching his century, Williams seemed to tire somewhat, unsurprisingly considering the state of his health – he admitted that he found difficulty in breathing properly at times.

Finally he miscued a drive off Mitchell Santner, and was out caught near the boundary at deep midwicket for a magnificent 119.

Williams faced 148 balls and hit 21 fours, a large proportion, which could perhaps be partly explained by the need to conserve his energy in running between wickets.

He left with the score on 285 for nine wickets, having played one of Zimbabwe’s greatest Test innings.

Donald Tiripano played a few aggressive strokes before edging another attempted big hit off Wagner to the keeper, having made 14.  Zimbabwe were all out for 295 and the match was over.

In this innings Boult was the best of the bowlers, taking four wickets for 52, while Southee and Wagner both took two wickets.

The second Test match starts next Saturday at the same ground, and hopefully should be a closer contest.

The Zimbabwe players now know that the New Zealand bowling can be mastered; they still need to find out how to contain their batsmen.

Mini Scorecard:

Zimbabwe – 164 and 295 all out in 79 overs (Sean Williams 119, Craig Ervine 50; Trent Boult 4/52, Neil Wagner 2/62, Tim Southee 2/68)

New Zealand – 576 for 6 declared in 166.5 overs (Ross Taylor 173*, BJ Watling 107, Tom Latham 105; Hamilton Masakadza 1/25, Chamu Chibhabha 1/44)