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Spinners hand opening-day honours to Zimbabwe

[ESPNcricinfo] Stumps Zimbabwe 19 for 0 (Mire 17*, Masakadza 0*) trail West Indies219 (Shai Hope 90*, Powell 56, Cremer 4-64, Williams 3-20) by 200 runs.

Only Shai Hope stood firm for West Indies on the first day at Queens Sports Club as Zimbabwe’s bowlers consistently chipped away to bowl West Indies out for 219 and ensure the hosts had the upper hand at the close. For much of the day, West Indies and Zimbabwe both threw punches in an engaging back-and-forth contest, but the Zimbabwe spinners came to the fore after tea with seven wickets in the session. West Indies collapsed from 174 for 3 to 219 all out, and Hope was left stranded on 90 not out.

It was Sikandar Raza’s offspin that prompted the start of West Indies’ collapse in the afternoon sunshine. He had Roston Chase caught via the inside edge by Craig Ervine at short leg – the second of four smart catches Ervine would take in the position – to break a 64-run partnership after tea.

That was West Indies’ last combination of any substance. Graeme Cremerquickly had Jermaine Blackwood stumped, and Sean Williams then made the most of helpful conditions to nip Shane Dowrich, Jason Holder and Devendra Bishoo out in quick succession: a spell of 3 for 2 in four overs for him. The ball had gripped and turned almost from the very first over of spin this morning, and continued to do so as Cremer made short work of the West Indies tail to finish with 4 for 64.

Yet, despite the turn on offer this isn’t (yet) a bunsen burner of a track – as Shai Hope showed. Playing straight and generally in front of the wicket, he profited particularly from the cover drive. He saw the shine off the new ball and once he got in, he stayed there. His only shot in anger came immediately after the final drinks break of the day, when he thumped Raza over wide long-on for the first six of the innings, and just the second of his entire Test career so far.

Hope had come to the crease after Kyle Jarvis, returning to national colours after a four-year hiatus, and Solomon Mire, on Test debut, made the initial incisions for the hosts this morning. Jarvis, looking every inch the county pro with his trendy haircut and full-sleeve tattoo, took the new ball from the City End in overcast, cool conditions, more reminiscent of Old Trafford than Queens Sports Club, and soon had a comeback wicket when Kraigg Brathwaite couldn’t quite get behind one that left him off the pitch, feathering an edge to wicketkeeper Regis Chakabva for 3 off 22 balls.

Mire’s debut Test wicket reduced West Indies to 35 for 2 and brought Hope to the crease. In a measured knock, Hope – heir apparent to West Indian batting aristocracy – displayed the sort of tempered accumulation that is becoming his trademark. Cremer kept his attacking fielders in place throughout, opting for an in-out field when it became apparent that Hope and opener Kieran Powell had settled in during their 75-run third wicket stand. Although there were moments of alarm when the ball would grip the surface, it seemed the pitch would mostly play flat and true.

Hope received solid support from Powell, who had gone 29 consecutive innings without a fifty before this one. Powell was made to graft today by some determined bowling from the hosts, eventually reaching his fifty from 118 deliveries.

It took an inspired piece of fielding from Ervine at short leg – and a judicious use of a review – to finally dismiss Powell. Ervine spotted Powell shuffling well outside off to sweep and pre-emptively started moving to his left at short leg, taking a tumbling catch to his left. It was his first of four catches – only the second time a Zimbabwe fielder has taken four catches in a Test.

After overnight rain and overcast conditions for much of the day, the sun burned through the clouds in the afternoon, seemingly raising Zimbabwe’s spirits in the process. Hope eased past fifty, from 121 deliveries. His team-mates, however, had no answer to Zimbabwe’s gaggle of spinners.

After West Indies’ capitulation, the hosts had a tricky five-over period to negotiate before the close. Hamilton Masakadza was content to block out almost everything that came his way but Mire showed no such restraint. He opened his Test account with a glide through gully, and then put an emphatic stamp on proceedings with a towering six off Chase’s offspin in the final over of the day. Advantage: Zimbabwe.

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