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Masakadza’s fifty saves Zimbabwe’s blushes in warm-up game

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Hamilton Masakadza spared Zimbabwe’s blushes on Wednesday with a well-crafted fifty as the tourists struggled to cope with unfamiliar settings on the opening day of their three-day warm-up match against the South Africa Invitation XI at Boland Park in Paarl.

Playing under lights and using the pink ball for the first time, Zimbabwe folded for 196, with Masakadza’s knock of 79 – which came off 181 deliveries and included nine boundaries and a single maximum – being the only noteworthy performance of the innings.

Although this is only a practice match, Zimbabwe’s lacklustre batting would have put their chance against South Africa in the inaugural four-day Test scheduled for Port Elizabeth next week into stark perspective.

After opting to bat first, Zimbabwe managed to weather the threat posed by Dale Steyn – back in whites after a lengthy injury-forced layoff – but by the 11th over the tourists were two wickets down, with only 20 runs on the board, courtesy of the feared fast bowler’s lesser known team-mates.

Solomon Mire was the first to go, bowled off the 26th delivery he faced having scored six, and seven balls later Craig Ervine also departed, for two, when he was trapped lbw.

Brendan Taylor scored three boundaries before he was caught at point for 14, ending a promising partnership with Masakadza and in the process reducing Zimbabwe to 55 for two.

By the end of the first session, Zimbabwe were on 83 for three, Masakadza with 39 and Ryan Burl 10.

The pair added 65 for the fourth wicket, a stand that came to an end when Burl was dismissed for 26; 120 for four. But that was not before Masakadza reached his half-century after the dinner break, taking 115 balls, with six fours and one six, to reach the mark.

The veteran batsman lost Sikandar Raza and Peter Moor for four and 16 respectively before he was also sent back to the pavilion for a well-played 79, leaving the tourists reeling at 166 for seven.

Chamunorwa Chibhabha made 18, Graeme Cremer and Kyle Jarvis were dismissed without getting off the mark, while Regis Chakabva had six not-out when Zimbabwe were skittled for 196.

That left the South Africa Invitation XI with 24 overs to face in testing conditions.

After the innings break, Taylor returned to the field donning the wicketkeeper’s gloves and he displayed his agility and sharpness of old behind the stumps as he took two brilliant catches, both off the bowling of Jarvis.

Down to nine for two, the home side tried to mount a recovery of some sort until Chris Mpofu trapped Zubayr Hamza (10) lbw; 55 for three.

At the close of play, Temba Bavuma was unbeaten on 36, with the night-watchman Tladi Bokako on one.

The South Africa Invitation XI will resume action on Thursday afternoon trailing by 136 runs with seven wickets remaining in the first innings.

While getting a result is not the ultimate goal, since Zimbabwe are using the warm-up match to assess their tactics and game plan ahead of the historic Boxing Day Test, also a day-night affair, winning the three-dayer will without doubt boost the confidence of the underdog visitors.

Zimbabwe – 196 all out in 71.5 overs (Hamilton Masakadza 79, Ryan Burl 26, Chamunorwa Chibhabha 18; Lizaad Williams 3/12, Michael Cohen 3/21, Shaun von Berg 3/64)

South Africa Invitation XI – 60-3 in 22 overs (Temba Bavuma 36*, Zubayr Hamza 10; Kyle Jarvis 2/15)