Bulawayo — Gary Ballance became only the second Test batsman after Kepler Wessels to score a century for two countries, hitting an unbeaten 137 for Zimbabwe against the West Indies in Bulawayo on Tuesday.
Needing at least 248 runs in reply to a West Indies declaration of 447/6 to avoid a possible follow-on, Zimbabwe declared on 379/9 after the second session on day four of the first Test.
That left the hosts trailing by 68 runs after the first innings in their first Test since losing to Bangladesh two years ago.
Batting again, the tourists were 21/0 at the close, giving them a lead of 89 runs going into the final day at the Queens Sports Club.
Harare-born Ballance scored four centuries for England, but last played for them in 2017.
He switched allegiance to Zimbabwe after being released by Yorkshire having admitted he used racist language on former teammate Azeem Rafiq.
“I cannot even describe how proud I am, firstly to represent Zimbabwe, and secondly to get the hundred,” Ballance told reporters.
“There is no feeling better than that. It has been amazing (to play for Zimbabwe). Every single coach, every single player, has been welcoming.
“I have played with some of the players before, but it makes a difference to come into a new team and be welcome. It makes it easier to perform.
“The declaration was a positive move. We are trying to put ourselves on the front foot to win. That is how the coach (Dave Houghton) wants us to play, to play positive cricket.”
South Africa-born Wessels scored four centuries for Australia and made two more for his homeland when they were readmitted to Test cricket in the 1990s.
Referring to playing for two countries having left Zimbabwe for England as a schoolboy, Ballance said “the feelings are different”.
“For England, it was a feeling of achievement. For Zimbabwe, it is also an achievement, and a matter of pride.”
Ballance and leg-spinner Brandon Mavuta, who made 56 before playing across the line to a short delivery and being bowled by Jason Holder, put on 135 in a brilliant eighth-wicket stand.
Aware of his key role having come in at No 5 with Zimbabwe 114/3, Ballance was the epitome of caution, painstakingly building his innings.
By the declaration, the 33-year-old had faced 231 balls and his total included two sixes, one from a shot over deep square leg that took him to his century, and 12 fours.
While Ballance was foiling the West Indians’ plans to bowl out Zimbabwe cheaply and force them to immediately bat again, Mavuta played a superb back-up role.
Having taken five West Indies wickets, he proved equally skilful with the bat and did not hold back when offered scoring chances as he slammed nine fours.
“Of course we wanted wickets, but it just did not happen,” West Indies quick Alzarri Joseph said.
“But we have a full day of cricket left. The wicket is flat and it should be a batting day (on Wednesday). But obviously we will try to win the match.”
The day began with Test debutant Innocent Kaia on 59, but he could add only eight more before being trapped leg before by Joseph.
Kaia missed an attempted flick and was hit high on the front pad. A review was not possible as the Decision Review System (DRS) is not being used in this series.