England v Zimbabwe, 25 May 1999by John Ward
Why you should watch: This will be a battle royal! England have been beaten five times in six official one-day encounters with Zimbabwe, and dare not lose again! Zimbabwe are very confident they can do it again.
Zimbabwe player to watch: Adam Huckle (if selected); otherwise Henry Olonga
England player to watch: Darren Gough and Graeme Hick (against his old country).
Listen on the stump mike for: Petulance from the England players when things do not go their way (Zimbabwe claim they are the worst on the circuit for this!).
Neutrals may care to enjoy: The verve of Zimbabwe as they unleash all their energy on their regular victims. The determination of England not to let it happen again. The confidence of Zimbabwe at the start of the match.
Schadenfreude potential: Watching English batsmen looking helpless against Zimbabwe's leg-spinners. Watching Zimbabwe's bowlers increase their total of wides. The chagrin of Graeme Hick after a cheap dismissal. The chagrin of Zimbabwe (or England?) at the end of the match.
Old lags: Eddo Brandes (36), Alec Stewart (36), Neil Fairbrother (35). Young pups: Henry Olonga (22), Andy Flintoff (21).
CricInfo prediction: Whoever wins the toss will win a close encounter!
In the absence of an India v Pakistan clash yet, anyway no match will have more pride attached to the result than this one. The England team know that their home press will be sharpening their pencils and their wits, ready to unleash every drop of their contempt and ridicule on their hapless heads should they lose to Zimbabwe a sixth time, and that on home soil.
For their part, Zimbabwe are more confident facing England in one-day cricket than they are against any other Test-playing country. They feel they have the measure of the Englishmen, and that the English themselves secretly fear so, too. They expect to win this one but then they expected to beat Sri Lanka too. This is virtually a match within a match.
Both teams are in a similar position in the World Cup standings, and it is a crucial one. Both teams won their first two matches, and both lost their third. England perhaps could have been expected to lose to South Africa, but it was an upset of the form book for Zimbabwe to lose to Sri Lanka. Coach Dave Houghton was reported as saying that the team choked and certainly it appeared so, although it was a very close match right up to the final two or three overs.
The identity of the opposition, and also a little more experience, may keep Zimbabwe from choking this time round. The sight of their perennial victims taking the field may be more than enough to dispel fears of failure to reach the Super Six that they entered the tournament expecting. The winner of this match is likely to win through to the next round; the loser will have a much more difficult job. As England have to play India, but Zimbabwe the rampant South Africans, Zimbabwe have more to fear in that respect. On the other hand, the lambasting England will receive in their own press should they lose may well persuade them not to turn up against India at all!
For England Hick, Stewart and Hussain are their only batsmen to reach an aggregate of more than 30 runs in the tournament (over 100 each, actually) but this is due to lack of opportunity more than lack of form by their players, as two big early wins meant that the others, for the most part, only got to bat against South Africa, when they doubtless wished they hadn't. Despite conceding a big total to South Africa, England's bowlers have a good record so far, with Gough, Mullally, Ealham and Austin all returning averages of 22 or better. Once again, though, they have no spinner with any success, and will be hoping that the Trent Bridge pitch yields no turn, as they are heavily outgunned in that department.
Bearing in mind England's weakness against spin, Zimbabwe may well bring their attacking leg-spinner Adam Huckle out of mothballs to play his first match of the tournament. It is difficult to see who he would replace, though, and much depends on the pitch. Eddo Brandes is another with a fine record against England, and he would relish what would probably be a final fling against his favourite opponents. England will not need reminding of his hat-trick in the last match between the two teams, at Harare in January 1997, or his four wickets for 21 runs that started England on the slippery slope to defeat in their first encounter, at Albury, Australia, in the 1991/92 World Cup.
Zimbabwe have the Flower brothers with over 100 runs to their credit so far, but several others have batted usefully, with all-rounder Guy Whittall the least successful. Johnson, Streak, Whittall and Olonga have all returned averages of 24 or better once again, all pace bowlers, showing how hard it is for spinners to succeed on an English pitch in an English May.
It should be a close, tense, exciting match. Both teams have everything to play for as far as the World Cup is concerned, but both teams also have their own record and their own pride to play for against their very special opponents.