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England v Zimbabwe, NatWest Triangular Series, Match 1

Report by Neil Robinson 26/06/03

A very dry and cracked pitch on which batting was never easy produced another low scoring game in which an innings of 96 not out by Grant Flower proved to be the difference between the two sides. Flower’s innings, which came off 152 balls, rescued Zimbabwe from a perilous 15 for 4 and took them past England’s total of 191 for 8 with two overs to spare. It was a remarkable recovery, showing the deep reserves of character which lie within this Zimbabwean squad, but England will still be disappointed that a devastating new ball spell from Darren Gough and Richard Johnson did not lead to the comprehensive victory which then seemed assured.

Once again, negative tactics from the captain, Michael Vaughan, saw England settle back in the middle of the innings and wait for their opponents to self destruct rather than going in for the kill. Thanks to Flower’s obduracy and sterling support from youngsters Stuart Matsikenyeri and Sean Ervine, the collapse never happened. It was the third time England had relied upon this game plan during Vaughan’s four games in charge. Two of those three games England have now lost, the third, at Lord’s last Sunday, they were lucky to win at the death. With the more formidable spectre of South Africa looming at The Oval on Saturday, a rethink now seems essential if the hosts are to make the final of this triangular NatWest Series.

Following their drubbing in the Test series and a 10 wicket embarassment at the hands of Ireland in preparation for this tournament, few people were expecting the Zimbabweans to put up much of a show here. But, those who believe in the power of history to repeat itself may have seen the warning signs ahead. It was here at Trent Bridge that Zimbabwe played their first ever One Day International during the 1983 World Cup. That day they beat Australia. If Zimbabwe’s Aussie coach Geoff Marsh wouldn’t like to be reminded of that, he will no doubt retain more pleasant memories of the day here in 1989, when he and Mark Taylor batted unbeaten through the entire first day of a Test Match on their way to regaining the Ashes for Australia.

But, this was no pitch for batting all day on. Trent Bridge, with its reputation for being a bowler’s graveyard unless substantial quantities of grass are left on it, has this year been a rather different animal. Groundsman Steve Birks, runner up in last year’s ECB awards for one day pitches, has been left perplexed by the sudden appearance of deep cracks in the surface of the square which extra watering has done nothing to remedy. It was an ugly looking pitch, and one which was decidedly two-paced right through the game. No batsman looked entirely at home on it, even Grant Flower spent over an hour scratching around in the dust before his timing started to come more easily. England’s 191 for 8, never enough to leave them very confident in its defence, was a far better score than it first appeared.

It could have looked so much more impressive too, had Vaughan been prepared to build upon the momentum created by his opening bowlers and go in for the kill. Debutant Richard Johnson, coming in for the rested Anderson, had taken a wicket with his third ball in Test cricket a few weeks ago. Here he went one better, his second ball catching the shoulder of Dion Ebrahim’s bat and flying to Andrew Flintoff at second slip. Dougie Marillier soon followed, happy to walk after edging Gough low to gully even though TV replays suggested the ball may well have bounced just short of Clarke’s hands. Gough, bowling up around 145 kph, then forced Friend to glove a short ball to gully, and when Taibu lashed a long hop from Johnson straight to Solanki at backward point Zimbabwe were in all sorts of trouble at 15 for 4.

Flower and his new partner Matsikenyeri dug in and just looked to survive. Gough and Johnson each bowled seven tight overs in their opening spell, a couple of brave boundaries by Matsikenyeri off Johnson being the only thing to relieve Zimbabwean tensions. Flintoff followed Gough with another miserly spell and when Clarke replaced Johnson, Vaughan, despite this being the 16th over, still had two slips in place. But by the end of that over it was down to one slip, then two overs later we had the old formula on view. Ashley Giles bowling over the wicket at the right handers with a split field and no close catchers. Soon, despite Zimbabwe’s perilous situation, Vaughan had no more than the regulation minimum four fielders in the circle and the batsmen were picking off the singles at will. It was ludicrous, the visitors needed much less than a run a ball and were being granted exactly that, free of charge, without any effort.

The difference between this and Zimbabwe’s own efforts in the field was stark. Their spinners, Price, Marillier and Flower, had also looked to contain, but with a field set for the denial of singles, pressure was much easier to induce. Price, in particular, bowled a testing line and deserved his figures of 10-2-20-1. He had bowled round the wicket, keeping the lbw in the game and making the batsman watch for the odd one that turned, the very ball which bowled Robert Key, making his debut in place of Troughton, for 11. Every time Giles bowled over the wicket, however, the batsmen played him gently into the off side and ran a single. Flower and Matsikenyeri had already added 50 from 80 balls by the time Giles experimented with coming round the wicket. By this time the Warwickshire spinner had also missed two run out chances by adopting the barmy Bob Woolmer method of standing in front of the stumps to try and intercept the ball.

It was not until the 32nd over that Vaughan decided things were getting worrying enough to bring back one of his strike bowlers. Johnson’s very first ball showed what the side had been missing, Matsikenyeri dropped at slip by Flintoff. It wasn’t a costly miss however, as Matsikenyeri fell to a loose stroke later that over for a well made 44. It was a crucial breakthrough for England, but the partnership had put on 96 runs, runs which won the match for the visitors. Even now, with only 82 needed off 17 overs, Vaughan didn’t feel able to attack at both ends. Johnson and Clarke made way for Flintoff and McGrath, one slip for the strike bowler, a spread field for his partner. But another wicket fell anyway. Flower called Heath Streak for a quick single, then changed his mind and left his captain stranded halfway down the pitch as Vaughan scored a direct hit. Flower threw his bat to the ground in disgust at himself.

But, if anything; that only increased his determination to win the game. Sean Ervine came to the crease with 49 needed and gave the senior man stout support, but there was never any doubt who was in charge of this run chase. Flower and Ervine advanced inexorably on England’s total. Geoff Marsh was becoming positively emotional on the balcony, bowling coach Rodney Hogg impassive behind dark glasses, a partisan crowd grew ever more silent as the truth began to dawn. Too late, Darren Gough was recalled for his last three overs and was despatched for 24. Now the runs came freely, the bottles already visibly uncorked in the visitors’ changing room, Geoff Marsh standing wild-eyed on the balcony, willing each shot to the rope.

The end, when it came was jubilant for Zimbabwe, but greeted with slumped English shoulders and a crowd melting away in shocked silence. Afterwards, Michael Vaughan was more inclined to credit Grant Flower for his magnificent innings than comment about his own tactics, but surely after this debacle England must be thinking of fielding an additional quick bowler against South Africa on Saturday. The playing of an extra batsman is not even gaining them much ground in run scoring terms. England’s innings, excusable on a troublesome pitch, was a pedestrian affair. Trescothick played well again for his rapid 38, Flintoff made a well-judged 53 before he fell forcing the pace, Clarke and Read added a valuable 46 at the end. But in their four games this summer England have yet to reach 250. Against South Africa, that is unlikely to be good enough.

Scorecard Summary:

England 191 for 8 (Flintoff 53)

Zimbabwe 195 for 6 (Flower 96*, Matsikenyeri 44, Johnson 3 for 32)

Zimbabwe won by 4 wickets

Man of the Match:

Grant Flower

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