January 21, 2001

Zimbabwe the latest victims as Australia continues brilliant summer

How many ways are there really of saying the one thing? The Australian cricket team is great, invincible this summer and its Carlton Series opposition in season 2000-01, the West Indians and the Zimbabweans, are struggling to stack up.

We had an inkling of this when the team from the Caribbean was thoroughly thrashed in the Test series. But we hoped the five-nil series whitewash would inspire them to better things in the one-dayers. So far, it has proven not to be so.

We thought the Africans would fare better - they're supposed to be great fielders, they have one of the world'd highest ranked batsmen, and, to top it all off, they're great characters who will not go down without a fight.

When this team was unluckily beaten by the West Indies in a closely fought match earlier this month, we had hoped some competition had been breathed into this tournament. Maybe the Zimbabweans would surprise Australia, catch them unawares and give them a run for their money.

Maybe we should go back to dreaming. For tonight, Australia dashed our hopes of being able to watch anything resembling a contest again.

Ruthlessly, efficiently, brilliantly, they rendered the Zimbabweans virtually useless, winning by eight wickets with more than thirteen overs to spare here at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Of course, we didn't fully believe that they could actually compete against this all-conquering champion team straight away, but we had hoped. And, as soon as the Zimbabweans had won the toss and raced to fifty inside the first eight overs on a batsman's paradise, these hopes were fuelled.

But then a wicket fell. Guy Whittall (25) was dismissed by local lad Ian Harvey's first ball of the day and the visitors never really recovered. The rest of the top order followed with alarming regularity and, just when the Flower brothers looked to have steadied the ship, Australia, struck again. This time it was through Andrew Symonds (2/38), who removed Andy for twenty-three.

Several of the batsmen got starts but just could not go on. They were well-contained by Harvey and positively stifled by Shane Warne, who continued his excellent one-day form of the summer with an astonishing return of 2/21 off his ten overs.

Of the batsmen, only Grant Flower stood out, but his lone hand of fifty-one was not enough to bolster the score to respectable levels.

As expected, Australia came out firing in the reply with captain Adam Gilchrist striking the second ball to the fence just to make clear his intention in case the Zimbabweans had any doubts. Gilchrist combined with makeshift opener Darren Lehmann (92*) to post the team's fifty from just forty-two balls, in thirty-one minutes.

Gilchrist's dismissal, which brought Ricky Ponting (68) to the crease, hardly slowed the run-rate, with the vice-captain combining with Lehmann to power Australia home. Given a rare second chance in the national team, Lehmann grabbed it with both hands, narrowly missing his third century at this level as Australia ran out of runs to chase.

Lehmann's innings of two-and-a-half hours consisted of typically powerful pulls and drives and included nine fours. While supporters will view his innings as representing a timely reminder to Australian selectors, the South Australian said after the match he was just glad to have carried the bat in only his second match as an opener at this level.

"Look I'm realistic. I mean, Steve Waugh's out of the side and, when he comes back, you know, they've got the top six there. So I'm probably still on the fringe, that's just the way it is and every chance I get I've just got to do well. It's always good to represent your country basically. I never gave up hope. Just had to put the runs on the board and hopefully get selected again. Now I've sort of got my chance, I've just got to keep making every post a winner every time I get a chance to bat," he said.

As for Zimbabwe, whose bowling was no more than average in quality, the headaches are possibly only beginning on this tour.

"I thought we had a good start and we probably should've ended up with a few more on the board. We were looking for about 250 to be a bit more competitive but they took the game to us. The wicket was pretty good, and Adam Gilchrist came out and played some shots and we didn't seem to have any response to him. And then Ponting and Lehmann carried on that start. It was quite disturbing for us," said captain Heath Streak.

Zimbabwe next takes on West Indies in Sydney at the Sydney Cricket Ground in two day's time.