Four-wicket win gives England unassailable lead
"Nearly an exciting finish" is perhaps an apt verdict for this match as England had to work hard to beat Zimbabwe by four wickets and take an unbeatable three-nil lead in the five-match series. They had to work much harder this time only because of a heroic century by Andy Flower, who after more incompetent early batting finally found the partner he needed in Heath Streak, as the two put together a world record partnership for the seventh wicket in one-day internationals. But Zimbabwe's bowling was too weak, and two dropped catches sealed their doom again.
Nasser Hussain's ill luck with the toss continued, as Zimbabwe again decided to bat on another sound batting pitch at Harare Sports Club. He will not be complaining too much, though, as long as his team keeps winning.
Both teams made two changes, with England playing Paul Collingwood and Ryan Sidebottom for Ben Hollioake and James Kirtley, the latter apparently suffering from a slight strain. Zimbabwe dropped Guy Whittall and Mluleki Nkala, neither of whom have done much at all recently, and included Doug Marillier, who last played in Perth where he made a name for himself against Glenn McGrath, and pace bowler Henry Olonga. It was well worth the gamble of playing Olonga, often erratic, but much faster on his day than Zimbabwe's other erratic pacemen. England will not have forgotten his six wickets for 19 runs at Cape Town two years ago.
Alistair Campbell had yet another opening partner as Grant Flower was again tried in that role. Not that it made any difference, as another hostile opening spell by Matthew Hoggard, assisted by spineless batting, soon reduced Zimbabwe to 19 for three. Flower (1) hung his bat out to be caught at first slip; Stuart Carlisle (1) flashed at Sidebottom to be caught at second slip; then Campbell (8) stepped in front of a straight ball to be plumb lbw.
Once again Andy Flower, a giant among pygmies, was called upon to haul his side out of the mire. He waited for the loose balls and then laid into them as if burning with suppressed fury over the unnecessarily rapid change of personnel at the other end - which may well have been the case. When the 50 came up in the 12th over, he had 32 of them. He lost Craig Wishart (4) at 56, presenting square leg with a gentle skyer off Hoggard, whose opening spell of eight overs returned him figures of three for 28.
At last Dion Ebrahim provided Flower, who ran to his fifty off 48 balls, with a partner worthy of the name, until on 22 he was smartly stumped by Jamie Foster, standing up to the medium-pace of Paul Collingwood. Doug Marillier (12) batted enterprisingly before unwisely trying to take a fourth run from a cut near the boundary and ran himself out.
Flower went through a quiet period, accumulating mainly in ones and twos, before swinging Mark Ramprakash for a leg-side six and four off successive balls. But further disaster struck Zimbabwe as Streak injured his leg completing a quick single, requiring a runner and depriving Zimbabwe of their key bowler.
England believed they had Flower caught at the wicket on 99, but the umpire disagreed and he ran to his third one-day century off 97 balls. Streak played some lusty shots off one leg and passed his fifty, as the pair recorded Zimbabwe's first century partnership for the seventh wicket in one-day internationals. Streak finally fell to a catch in the covers off Hoggard in the final over for 56, Viljoen skyed a catch first ball, while Flower the magnificent finished on 142. Hoggard finished with five wickets for 49 runs.
Henry Olonga began with a testing first over, but then appeared to lose steam. England were going nicely on to the attack when Trescothick (14), trying to dab a ball to third man, instead edged a catch to the keeper; England 28 for one in the fifth over.
Every so often Olonga bowled a dangerous delivery, a distinct improvement on anything else seen from Zimbabwe so far this season, but in the absence of Streak were down to just two pace bowlers, Olonga and Gary Brent. England, however, had Hussain missing with a strained calf muscle.
The batsmen were not content to wait for the second-string bowlers to appear but played some fine attacking strokes, keeping the score going at about six an over. Ramprakash had an escape on 23 as he pulled Olonga straight to Carlisle at square leg, and this normally superb catcher put it down. Viljoen dismissed Knight (41) immediately after drinks, though, skying a catch behind the bowler Marillier, and Thorpe scored just 7 before lofting a catch to deep midwicket off Grant Flower. England were 109 for three in the 21st over.
Quick work by Doug Marillier as the batsmen hesitated over a single ran out Mark Ramprakash for 47, a crucial wicket, reducing England to 126 for four. Suddenly Zimbabwe perked up as it dawned on them that they might actually win.
Paul Collingwood and Andy Flintoff played with caution for an over or two before looking to seize the initiative again. Flintoff began to hit powerfully but on 24 he was dropped at midwicket. Tension mounted as Collingwood (36) edged Brent to the keeper, bringing in Hussain with a runner at 198 for five in the 39th over.
48 were needed off the last ten overs, but immediately Flintoff (46) pulled Grant Flower down the throat of deep midwicket and the match was in the balance again; 214 for six. But Zimbabwe's second-string bowlers were never really threatening, and Hussain and Jeremy Snape kept the runs coming. Zimbabwe returned to their pacemen too late and Hussain finished the match with a big six over long-on. He was unbeaten on 28 and Snape on 24.