DARREN SAMMY further enhanced his Test cricket certification by passing another stern examination of his character and credentials while the West Indies' specialist batsmen either got moderate marks or a failing grade, yesterday.
The task on the second day of the first cricket Test at Kensington Oval against a modest bowling attack, should have been a simple one to pass with flying colours when the West Indies resumed on 18 for two, replying to Zimbabwe's first innings total of 211.
But it took Sammy and the equally maligned wicket-keeper Denesh Ramdin, to perform a rescue act in a record-breaking seventh-wicket stand which lifted the West Indies from a worrying 151 for six to 307 all out for a handy lead of 96 runs, despite pacer Kyle Jarvis' career-best haul of five for 54 in 17.2 overs.
In a controlled and commanding counter-attack, Sammy smashed eight fours and four sixes in a knock of 73 off 69 deliveries for his highest Test score in the Caribbean, while Ramdin celebrated his 50th Test on his 28th birthday with a responsible 62, which contained eight fours off 130 balls in 160 minutes.
They shared an entertaining 106-run partnership, the best by a West Indian pair for the seventh wicket against Zimbabwe, in 95 minutes.
At the close, Zimbabwe were already staring defeat at 41 for three in their second innings, 55 runs in arrears with seven wickets in hand.
Sammy was back in the picture as a fielder, leaping in the air to pouch opener Tino Mawoyo's (nine) edge above his head at second slip from the first ball by the pacy and powerfully-built Trinidadian fast bowler Shannon Gabriel, who in 90s kilometre-per-hour.
Then, when he introduced off-spinner Shane Shillingford, Sammy positioned himself at leg-slip and Hamilton Masakadza (one) obliged by turning an off-break from the Dominican into the Windies skipper's hands.
Shillingford, who took two wickets for nine runs in his two overs, completed what turned out to be a satisfying day for the West Indies, who are hunting their fifth consecutive Test victory, by taking a return catch when opener Visu Sibanda (15) got a leading edge as he played across the line.
If the last half of the day belonged to the West Indies, the first session went Zimbabwe's way as the Caribbean side lost the three key wickets of Darren Bravo, Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels in the morning session while scoring 126 runs freely to go to lunch in an unsatisfactory position of 144 for five.
Bravo went for 11, snicking a catch to wicket-keeper Regis Chakabva off Jarvis while Gayle, looking for a substantial score, restrained himself somewhat for 40 with eight fours in 112 minutes before deflecting a delivery which reared off the pitch to Brendan Taylor at second slip to give rookie pacer Tendai Chatara a much treasured first Test wicket.
Samuels was his typically silky self in a stroke-filled 51, laced with nine fours a six off 74 balls before he drove at part-timer Masakadza's teasing medium pace delivery and was caught by Chakabva.
Samuels' dismissal on the stroke of lunch was a major setback and to compound the Windies' woes, the experienced Shivnarine Chanderpaul fell for 26 on resumption, gloving a catch to Chakabva while hooking at Jarvis.
But Sammy quickly assessed the situation when he entered the fray with his team floundering on 151 for six, still 60 runs adrift, to seize the initiative from Zimbabwe.
Sammy was particularly severe on leg-spinner Graeme Cremer, clouting him for four of the five sixes he conceded as his first 16 overs cost 97 runs out of an eventual 20 wicket-less overs for 103 runs.
After the bowler was switched to the Malcolm Marshall End at the south, Sammy continued to cream him with a pull over wide long-on for a huge six which was followed by his trademark lofted six over long-off to level the scores.
He took a single to see the West Indies into the lead and celebrated by pulling Cremer for another six as his 50, which was studded with five fours and those three sixes, was reached off just 38 balls.
Sammy's fourth six was hammered straight onto the sight screen as Cremer served up some sub-standard leg-spin.
After persisting with Cremer, Taylor brought back his partnership breaker, Masakadza and he did the trick following an eventual over in which Ramdin was nearly run out and Sammy was dropped on the deep extra cover boundary by the 36-year-old Ray Price.
Inducing Sammy to cut at a delivery too close to him, Masakadza was rewarded as the ball hit the stumps off the inside edge.
After going to tea on 265 for seven, Shillingford gave Price his first wicket but Tino Best made 24 off 26 balls with four boundaries, helping Ramdin, who was Chatara's second Test scalp, to reach his ninth 50, before becoming Jarvis' fifth scalp after Zimbabwe took the second new ball.
Zimbabwe 1st innings 211
West Indies' 1st innings (18-2)
C. Gayle c Taylor b Chatara 40
K. Powell lbw b Jarvis 5
K. Roach lbw b Jarvis 0
Darren Bravo c wk Chakabva b Jaravis 11
Marlon Samuels c wk Chakabva b Masakadza 51
S. Chanderpaul c wk Chakabva b Jarvis 26
+D. Ramdin c Sibanda b Chatara 62
*D. Sammy b Masakadza 73
S. Shillingford c Jarvis b Price 1
T. Best c Cremer b Jarvis 24
S. Gabriel not out 0
Extras: (b9, lb3, w1, nb1) 14
TOTAL: (all out, 84.2 overs) 307
Fall of wickets: 1-8 (Powell), 2-8 (Roach), 3-43 (Bravo), 4-81 (Gayle), 5-144 (Samuels), 6-151 (Chanderpaul), 7-257 (Sammy), 8-268 (Shillingford), 9-3-01 (Ramdin), 10-307 (Best).
Bowling: Jarvis 17.2-4-54-2 (nb1, w1), Chatara 19-6-66-2, Cremer 20-0-103-0, Masakadza 10-2-25-2, Price 18-2-47-1.
Zimbabwe 2nd innings
T. Mawayo c Sammy b Gabriel 9
V. Sibanda c and b Shillingford 15
H. Masakadza c Sammy b Shillingford 1
R. Price not out 7
*B. Taylor not out 0
Extras: (b8, lb1) 9
TOTAL: (3 wkts, 14 overs) 41
Fall of wickets: 1-25 (Mawoyo), 2-26 (Masakadza), 3-39 (Sibanda).
Bowling: Roach 5-3-10-0, Best 3-2-6-0, Gabriel 4-1-7-1, Shillingford 2-0-9-2.
To Bat: C. Ervine, M. Waller, +R. Chakabva, G. Cremer, K. Jarvis, T. Chatara.
Umpires: Bruce Oxenford (Australia), Ranmore Matinesz (Sri Lanka). TV umpire: Tony Hill (New Zealand).
Match referee: Jeff Crowe (New Zealand).