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The Electronic Telegraph England v Zimbabwe, Group A
Michael Henderson - 25 May 1999

England learn little in dull affair

England (168-3) bt Zimbabwe (167-8) by 7 wkts

This was a dog of a match, an absolute shocker. To win it, after Alec Stewart had won his fourth successive toss, England needed to be no more than competent, and competence is something they manufacture by the yard. They bowled competently when the ball swung about in the morning, and they batted competently when the sun came out later. Their fielding alone bore the stamp of merit.

As a competitive game of cricket it was dreadful but the victory did hold some significance. Barring floods, plague and pestilence, England will qualify for the second stage of the World Cup and, if they beat India at Edgbaston on Saturday, they will remove all doubt. They may even be able to afford a defeat in Birmingham, should the results of other games fall their way. Even if India win their two remaining matches England are likely to go through in third place.

England's batsman Graham Thorpe sweeps a four past Zimbabwe keeper Andy Flower

The doubts about their all-round capability remain, however. Memories of last Saturday's pasting by South Africa at the Oval are far too clear to read anything into the result of this dreary contest. They won easily, with more than 11 overs to spare, yet they learnt not a thing.

Stewart may take a different view. The England captain had played five one-day internationals against Zimbabwe before this meeting, and lost the lot, so he will have felt some relief at breaking his duck, particularly as he gifted his own wicket to Neil Johnson with a lazy stroke off his legs.

If Stewart was culpable, Graeme Hick was even more generous, offering a catch behind the wicket off the loosest of drives. Hick, so masterful in the first two group games, has now perished twice to feeble strokes. Mpumelelo Mbangwa, who dismissed him as soon as he came on, felt briefly like a king. Hick, once of Zimbabwe himself, wandered off like a boy who had lost his kite.

After those early losses Graham Thorpe played himself into some sort of form, and Nasser Hussain sat at his desk like a schoolboy doing detention, helping his mate add 123. Until Thorpe unfurled some pleasing strokes when the game was almost up, it was wretched stuff. Full marks to the spectators, though. They resolutely failed to pass out through excitement, or even perspire from tension. My word, it was dull.

Would the outcome have been different if Stewart had called wrong? It was certainly another morning for bowling first and, after England had decided to retain Angus Fraser, and preferred Adam Hollioake to Robert Croft, that is what they did. When Alistair Campbell said later that the toss was crucial, it was not the admission of a whingeing captain.

Batting proved so testing, in conditions favouring those bowlers who could make the ball swing, like Darren Gough and Alan Mullally, that the first 15 overs yielded only 39 for the loss of two wickets. When Grant Flower was the fifth man out in the 29th over, he had made no more than 35. From that position Zimbabwe were never going to put a winning score on the board, and a total of 167 for eight proved wholly inadequate.

Mullally was, again, the most successful bowler, and also the best. Held back, until Fraser had finished his opening burst from the Pavilion End, he struck in his opening over when Paul Strang gave Hick some catching practice. Strang failed to score off any of his 17 balls and was missed by Stewart before he nicked one to second slip.

By the time Mullally finished his second spell he had figures of two for 16, strong enough to take the man-of-the-match award.

Darren Gough lent reliable support, with two wickets, and there were two more for Mark Ealham. There was also a first World Cup success for Fraser, when Campbell dabbed a catch to Stewart. How Gussie enjoyed that one. And how he, and everybody else enjoyed the wonderful moment in the penultimate over, when he panted 30 yards, tongue flapping, to hold a catch that Stuart Carlisle hoisted to mid-on.

That was the comic turn of the day, because nobody expects Fraser to skip across the outfield like a frisky lamb. That's the sort of thing Hussain does, so it was no surprise when he hit the stumps with a swoop and dive from point to run out Andy Flower. The fielding, give or take a fumble here and there, was good.

So, England move on, without being troubled, and without looking entirely convincing. There was the usual crowd invasion at the end, as people raced towards the square, to claim the stumps as souvenirs, but why any sensible person would want to take away a knick-knack from this game is a mystery. It was possibly the least interesting one-day international staged in this country.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
Editorial comments can be sent to The Electronic Telegraph at et@telegraph.co.uk