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England v Zimbabwe, 1st Test at Lordís - Match Report

Report By Neil Robinson at Lordís for Abc of Cricket 25/05/03

When Chairman of the England Selection Panel David Graveney, said before the match he expected the fifth bowler's role to be filled jointly by the medium pace swing of Mark Butcher and Anthony McGrath, many eyebrows were raised. In the end, events proved Graveney wrong.

Capturing seven second innings wickets between them as Zimbabwe slid to an innings defeat within three days, the slowest swingers in town bowled more like an established strike pairing than a couple of slow medium stop-gaps. For Butcher in particular it was quite a match. Added to his bag of 4 for 55 in the second innings, he claimed the vital wicket of Dion Ebrahim in the first to follow up a century of grace and panache.

He had begun the season looking anxiously over his shoulder at the pack of hungry youngsters chasing a slot in the England batting order, with a seventh Test century and a man of the match award deservedly claimed, he can now direct his eyes forward for the rest of this summer. McGrath too can have hoped for little more from his first Test appearance. A punchy innings of 69 thrust home the advantage created by Butcher at the top of the order, before a devastating spell of 6-0-16-3 cut straight to Zimbabwe's heart, just as England's tiring attack was despairing of finishing off the match before the close of day 3.

In his dream debut, McGrath was joined by his fellow newcomer, James Anderson, whose fiery first innings bowling earned him the first five-wicket haul by an England bowler on debut since Dominic Cork on this ground eight years ago.

Put in by Zimbabwe on a cloudy, cool morning after most of the first session was lost to rain, England found batting a struggle at first. But, none of Zimbabwe's bowlers was able to harness consistent accuracy to the substantial swing and seam movement on offer and despite several instances of ball beating bat, the hosts were able to craft solid partnerships throughout the first day.

In a striking departure from experiences during the winter, England began with Vaughan struggling to find his touch and Trescothick looking as assured and confident as anyone could in these conditions. While Vaughan fretted at the swing away from his bat, Trescothick found the ball swinging into his pads where a few easy clips to leg got his innings underway. Having spent much of the last few months trying to adjust his technique, Trescothick has abandoned his tinkering and reverted to his original upright, guardsman's stance. The result was clear, evidenced by his improved balance and awareness of where his off-stump was, leading to some crisp straight-drives either side of lunch.

For all his struggles, Vaughan's dismissal just after lunch was a freakish one. Having just cracked Streak through extra-cover for 4, Vaughan's next
delivery from the Zimbabwe captain was heading down the leg side when it clipped the protruding bottom edge of his thigh-pad and deflected back behind his legs onto the stumps. It was one of very few bits of luck Zimbabwe would get all match. Butcher came in and his innings, classy as it was, was not without luck. Lucky to survive a confident lbw appeal from
Hondo when 10, he was dropped in the slips by Ervine on 36 and found the going hard on day 1.

Losing Trescothick, who fell chasing a wide one for 59, Butcher dug in and built important partnerships with Hussain (19), Key (18) and Stewart (26). Key was particularly unlucky having shaped well and survived into the second morning, when conditions were significantly easier, only to be given out caught behind, when his bat had glanced pad rather than ball.

Stewart's lively cameo struck the keynote for England's batting on day 2. Butcher soon followed his lead, driving and cutting with great style and enthusiasm, at times his innings was near Goweresque in grace and timing. McGrath, quickly overcame any early nerves to bat with more confidence than we are accustomed to seeing from an England debutant, twice hitting three fours in an over. By the afternoon session, England were already well over par for the conditions, Zimbabwe were flagging. Had McGrath not been bowled off his pads when well set for a debut hundred, the innings might have reached even more impressive proportions. As it was, a maiden fifty by Ashley Giles left Zimbabwe battered and bruised and surely realising that England's total of 472 was well beyond them.

Having already lost Mark Vermeulen before the close, Zimbabwe set out on day 3, under sunnier skies and warmer temperatures than of late, set on at the very least an act of defiance. The backbone of their innings was a gusty 68 runs, from Dion Ebrahim. However, this was an innings in which good luck featured as strongly as good judgement. Ebrahim was frequently troubled by Harmison's pace and lift, he showed little inclination to get behind the line of the ball, with many of his runs edged away through gully and slips.

The early damage was inflicted by Matthew Hoggard bowling with vigour and rhythm from the Pavilion End, he had Carlisle held in the slips by Trescothick, then forced Grant Flower to glove a catch to short leg. Harmison and Butcher chipped in to dismiss Ebrahim and Taibu, before the tail was laid open for Anderson, steaming in after replacing the tiring Hoggard, to finish off the innings. Fast, full, late swinging deliveries rattled the stumps of Streak and Travis Friend in successive balls. The hat-trick ball whistled past Ray Price's bat by a whisker.

Soon afterwards, Andy Blignaut scooped a catch up to Butcher at slip, then Anderson grabbed his fifth when a yorker accounted for Douglas Hondo. It was barely an hour after lunch,and already Zimbabwe were all out for 147.

Following on, 335 runs behind, Zimbabwe were soon in trouble again when Ebrahim, already rattled by a stinging blow amidships from Hoggard, was neatly grabbed at short leg by Key off Harmison. However, a fine and very elegant maiden Test 50 from Mark Vermeulen, ably supported by Stuart Carlisle in a partnership of 80, held up the hosts' progress and threatened to take the game into a fourth day.

Hoggard and Anderson could not recapture the energy of the first innings and Ashley Giles first spell of the game was tidy, but unthreatening. When Hussain tossed the ball once more to Butcher, as his main bowlers tired, he probably hoped for a single breakthrough. What he got was a spell that ripped the guts out of Zimbabwe's resistance. First, induced an edge from Vermeulen, greedily snapped up by Trescothick at slip. A few minutes later, Carlisle stepped across a straight one and was plumb lbw. Zimbabwe were left reeling.

Flower and Taibu held things up for a while, but when McGrath was finally
called into the attack as the light began to fade, he quickly tempted Taibu
into an unwise drive, which was well held low at second slip by that man Butcher. Soon after the pressure told on Flower too, a wild slash at Harmison ending his 96 minutes of resistance. McGrath now struck twice more, removing Ervine and Streak before limping off with a side strain.

As the clouds rolled in and the light grew dim, Friend and Price entertained the crowd with some late spectacular hitting. Only bad light could delay the inevitable, but umpires Bucknor and Orchard kept the players on and with only two wickets remaining, Hussain claimed the extra half-hour. It was enough, a powerful sweep from Price cannoned off Key at short leg, straight to mid-on. Then, fittingly, the final blow was delivered by Butcher himself, claiming his fourth wicket of the innings as Friend edged to slip and Butcher was engulfed by his joyous team-mates.

As Heath streak acknowledged after it was all over, this was a highly professional performance by the England team, more notable still for the fact, the attack which took 19 wickets on that marathon third day was so inexperienced. Without Gough and Caddick, the youngsters stepped up to the plate and delivered in style. There were hardly any bad balls, and very few missed chances, save for 2 dropped by the captain himself in the final
minutes. The batting too did everything that could be expected of it. If performances like this continue, it may be difficult for the established names to reclaim their places. England, having only won 1 of their last 7 Test series, now have a great chance to capitalise on an ideal start. Three
years ago, against the same opposition, they took their feet off the gas and nearly paid the price. This time they must avoid complacency.

Scorecard

England: 1st Innings, 472 (Butcher 137, McGrath 69, Giles 52)

Not required to bat in 2nd Innings

Zimbabwe: 1st Innings, 147 (Ebrahim 69, Anderson 5-73)

2nd Innings: 233 (Vermeulen 61, Butcher 4-55, McGrath 3-16)

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