England v Zimbabwe|
Nottingham - 25 May 1999
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REPORT: ENGLAND v ZIMBABWE, at Trent Bridge
Tuesday morning in Nottingham dawned bright and sunny, but by the start of the match it had already begun to cloud over. The pitch was slightly damp and greenish, meaning that the toss was likely to be important and that the seam bowlers could expect a fair degree of help. As it was, England won the toss and naturally had no hesitation in putting Zimbabwe in to bat. So far, between well-balanced teams, this World Cup has not been far short of a lottery, dependent on the toss.
Zimbabwe had considered playing Adam Huckle, knowing England's weakness against leg-spin, but thought on this particular pitch that advantage would most likely be nullified. They perhaps lost a psychological advantage by replacing Eddo Brandes with Mbangwa, though, in view of the famous chicken-farmer's track record against England.
The bowlers did not have much success at first, but after four or five overs the ball began to swing and bounce, and they used it well. Gough rarely achieved much movement at any stage, but Fraser moved the ball in sharply at times and Mullally, the best of the England bowling, swung it either way. Gough had a close lbw appeal against Grant Flower turned down in his second over.
It was Gough who took the first wicket, getting a ball to straighten on Johnson and flick his pad as it bowled him through the gate. Paul Strang poked indiscreetly at his first ball, well outside the off stump, but was fortunate enough to avoid a touch. Although he had done a good job as a pinch hitter earlier in the tournament, this was not to be his day, and he struggled uncharacteristically for 17 balls without scoring and survived a difficult chance to the keeper off the inside edge, before finally snicking a ball from Mullally which moved away sharply straight to second slip.
Mullally was soon to strike again, moving a ball away from Goodwin but forcing a stroke; the ball flew off the edge of the bat for Thorpe to take a low catch at first slip. With fine bowling on this lively pitch, Stewart maintained a field setting which included three slips, even after the 15-over restrictions had expired, and Mullally also brought Hollioake up as a short leg for Andy Flower, who nevertheless got off the mark immediately with a nonchalant dab on the off side. Mullally's next ball moved late and beat Grant comprehensively.
The pressure relaxed as the three front-line pacemen were rested and the next three - Ealham, Flintoff and Hollioake - were much less effective. The Flower brothers appeared to be settling down to one of the major partnerships that Zimbabwe have so urgently needed during this tournament when disaster struck. Andy called for a quick single from the non-striker's end, only to be run out by a brilliant direct hit from Hussain, running in from point. It was a wicket Zimbabwe could scarcely afford to lose, just as conditions and the bowling appeared to be easing.
Campbell soon announced his presence by stroking Flintoff effortlessly to the cover boundary. But then Grant Flower undid what had been a fine job of work for his team by flashing at Ealham, who had returned in place of Flintoff, and edging a high catch to first slip. It seemed as if Zimbabwe were losing ground once the pressure was off.
An appeal for a catch at the wicket off the thigh pad was wisely rejected by umpire Steve Bucknor, and the lack of fuss by the English fielders suggested they knew very well it was a dishonest appeal. Hussain missed the chance of a genuine breakthrough as a flashing cut from Whittall shot through his upstretched hands at backward point. Campbell and Whittall concentrated on picking off anything off line and keeping the score moving in ones and twos. There were hopes that at last they were succeeding in building a partnership.
Stewart brought back Gough in an attempt to destroy the rest of Zimbabwe's batting, but began with a wide outside off stump. Campbell seemed to decide the best policy was to hit him out of the attack, but he played some injudicious strokes before he finally sparred indecisively outside the off stump to Fraser and presented the keeper with an easy catch.
Mullally kept the runs down by bowling lifting balls just wide of the off stump, aimed to bounce between waist and chest height, and the later Zimbabwean batsmen found no answer to these. The latter part of the innings contained batting of the sort one would scarcely expect to see in a team experienced in one-day cricket; in fact, the Kenyans would almost certainly have done better. Working the ball away for singles seemed to be unheard of, the batsmen being unduly intent on keeping their wickets intact, and either blocking or trying to attack without real discrimination. It seemed quite apparent that their brief tenure at the top of the table had caused Zimbabwe to 'choke'.
Carlisle was perhaps the main culprit, stuck on strike much of the time and seemingly incapable of giving the strike to Whittall. When Whittall did finally face, he suffered what may well have been an unlucky lbw decision, struck low on the front foot full pitch, when any deviation from off after pitching would have carried the ball past leg stump.
Suddenly Carlisle seemed to come to his senses with a fine drive off Hollioake to the extra cover boundary, finally bringing up the 150. A brilliant throw from mid-on nearly ran out Streak backing up, but he just threw himself back into his crease in time. Carlisle then hit a huge skyer over mid-on, and Fraser running round made good ground and took a fine catch over his head, much to the surprise of most present. Olonga came in and was immediately almost run out backing up, after a comic mix-up between the batsmen.
Olonga jabbed a single off Hollioake to midwicket, and then Streak drove a two to long-off. A leg-side full toss was easily swung to the long-leg boundary, followed by a quick single to extra cover. The last ball, outside off stump, was missed by Olonga, but Streak showed no inclination to risk a single. Zimbabwe's total hardly looked enough; they have fought back to win matches in similar situations, but the spark seemed to be notably absent on this occasion.
When England replied, Johnson and Streak began with some good overs and testing deliveries, and Streak may well have been unlucky in an lbw appeal against Stewart. England had to fight for a while, but the pitch was no longer giving much help and the cloud cover dissipated, leaving the bowlers with little natural assistance.
Finally Zimbabwe struck, as Stewart turned Johnson uppishly towards midwicket, where Goodwin dived forward to take a good low catch. He had made 12, and England were 21 for one. Then Streak had a nightmare over, which gave away a no-ball and several wides, and finished as Hussain hammered a short ball over midwicket to the boundary.
Pommie Mbangwa replaced Streak and began with a wide and a second ball that must also have given the umpire thought. But his third ball did the trick, pitched well up and swinging away, and Hick followed it, to nudge a catch to the keeper. Before the end of the over he had Hussain groping uncertainly forward and almost squirting a catch on the off side. Pitching the ball up, he had found the right length.
His direction was awry, though, when he pitched on Thorpe's legs and was clipped through midwicket for four, and was then driven through the covers by Hussain for another boundary. England began looking more comfortable now and it seemed as if a crucial partnership was developing.
As soon as the first 15 overs were completed, Olonga came on to bowl, but his first over caused the batsmen no difficulty and the umpire some exercise in signalling a no-ball and two wides. Apart from Mbangwa, who at times overpitched, they tended to bowl too short and had difficulty in bowling the right line. Hussain and Thorpe settled in well, and the nearest they came to a breakthrough was when Thorpe turned a ball from Whittall uppishly towards square leg and it fell just short of Goodwin. Olonga, bowling from the other end, had further problems with his run-up and direction; it seemed that, whether batting or fielding, Zimbabwe had left their brains in the pavilion.
Runs came at an increasing rate and England appeared to be galloping towards victory. Zimbabwean body language seemed at times to suggest that some of their players had lost all hope, a sorry state for a team that began the tournament confident of reaching the Super Six, as indeed they should have - and then choking on the verge of it.
England were progressing steadily when Thorpe started to cut loose at the expense of Streak, who for such a fine bowler has had a disastrous tournament, completely failing to come to terms with the white ball. In a series of powerful drives and pulls, Thorpe overtook Hussain to reach a fine fifty, which came off only 60 balls. Hussain was not long in following, as Zimbabwe seemed able now to do little more than go through the motions.
Hussain did give one chance on 54, driving over the bowler's head, and Johnson diving from mid-off failed to hold what would have been a brilliant one-handed catch. Thorpe did not enjoy the opportunity of carrying his team to victory. Slashing at Mbangwa, he was out for 62 to a sharp catch at slip by Campbell, and England were 159 for three. But it was entirely academic, apart from postponing the inevitable for quite a few extra minutes. With the pressure off, Mbangwa and Strang suddenly began to bowl very well, forcing England to grind out the last few runs much more slowly. Hussain just dug out a good yorker from Mbangwa in time, but then drove Strang to extra cover for the winning run, which was just completed before the traditional invasion by the hordes of barbarism.
Zimbabwe could scarcely be accused of not trying, but they played with a lack of intelligence and self-belief and, in the end, like a team with a broken spirit. Losing the toss was undoubtedly a handicap, but it was no excuse for such a poor performance. Barring what would be little short of a miracle against South Africa at Chelmsford on Saturday, they will return home next week a sadder and hopefully wiser team. There is still no doubt as to their talent among those who know them. But to realise their potential, they still have to overcome their tendency to choke when on the verge of victory.