| PRICE CATCH: Raymond Price celebrates the wicket of Marcus Trescothick at Chester-le-Street Thursday. (AFP)
Chester-le-Street: Alec Stewart and Anthony McGrath scored unbeaten half-centuries to restore sanity to Englandís performance on Thursday as they reached 298 for five against Zimbabwe at close on the first day of the second Test.
The pair compiled 142 without major alarm after Douglas Hondo had turned the game on its head by taking three middle-order wickets in an 11-ball spell during the afternoon.
Stewart, aged 40 and in his 128th match, and McGrath, in only his second, stuck to the basics after England, 1-0 up in the two-match series, slumped from 109 for one to 156 for five.
Stewart finished with 67 and his partner, who made 69 in his debut innings at Lordís, was one run ahead of him as they rattled along at more than four runs an over.
Hondo was probably as surprised as Mark Butcher, Robert Key and Nasser Hussain by his success. In two previous appearances he had managed one for 132.
During the morning, bowling no more than medium-quick, he proved a greater threat to the slips than the stumps.
Butcher, however, having made an accomplished 47, got tucked up and chopped an attempted cut into his stumps, Key mis-pulled off the splice to square leg with four to his name and Hussain, eager to assert his authority, attacked when he might have defended and was caught behind for 18.
All three played large parts in their own downfalls.
The greying Stewart, though, underlined his enduring value as a wicketkeeping allrounder, mixing pushed singles with boundaries while McGrath looked compact and well aware of his limitations, relying heavily on straight-bat clips through mid-wicket.
He drove Hondo for successive boundaries, the first straight and the second to his favourite leg-side haunt, to reach his 50 off 101 balls.
The Yorkshireman committed one error, top-edging a hook off seamer Andy Blignaut after reaching 32 only for Raymond Price to spill the swirling chance as he ran around from fine leg.
Stewart also survived a late edge towards the slips when on 54.
Zimbabwe, totally outclassed in the first Test, at least made a fight of it on Thursday as they attempted to end a run of eight defeats in a row.
Heath Streak, their captain and one player of true class, had taken the first wicket when he had Michael Vaughan caught at slip. Vaughanís 20 was an odd affair as he scratched about for 10 deliveries before hitting five fours in rapid succession and then getting out tamely.
Left-arm spinner Price, bowling flat and quick in order to contain, took the second as England lost concentration after lunch, Marcus Trescothick caught for 43 as his attempted sweep popped up to wicketkeeper Tatenda Taibu off pad then glove.
Chester-le-Street, home of County side Durham, became England's eighth Test ground on Thursday and the countryís first new venue since 1902.
Earlier, Somerset seamer Richard Johnson was handed his maiden Test cap, replacing injured Yorkshire swing bowler Matthew Hoggard.