February 10, 2003

Zimbabwe beat Namibia and the weather

A magnificent innings of 172 not out from Craig Wishart was the highlight of a rain-affected Zimbabwe victory over Namibia in the opening Pool A match of the World Cup competition. The victory was narrow in the sense that had rain come two balls earlier the match would have been declared a draw, but with 25.1 overs bowled in the Namibian innings, Duckworth-Lewis was called into operation and Zimbabwe were declared winners by 86 runs.

It was a hot, sunny morning when the match began, although afternoon rain is always a possibility at this time of year. Namibia won the toss and put Zimbabwe in to bat. This was a decision the home side were probably pleased with, as it would allow their batsmen a better opportunity at the crease, but this would be tempered by the possibility of rain.

Zimbabwe opened their account with the third ball of their innings, as Wishart cut Gerrie Snyman uppishly between slips and gully for four. In the second over, bowled by Louis Burger, Wishart hit three roasting boundaries through the covers as the onslaught began.

The Namibian bowling was medium-paced and steady, but no threat to experienced batsmen of Test quality. The less experienced Mark Vermeulen was content to play the role of sleeping partner as Wishart, with good discrimination, made hay in the sunshine. Wishart had 30 before Vermeulen scored his first run and it was not until the 11th over that he finally found the confidence to hit his first boundary, a back-foot drive past cover that also brought up the fifty.

The Namibians tried their best but were clearly tense and too inexperienced and outclassed to provide much more than cannon fodder even for a struggling Test nation like Zimbabwe. They deserve tremendous credit for the progress they have made in such a short time, but realistically the World Cup appears to be a bridge too far at present.

Bjorn Kotze and 43-year-old left-arm spinner Lennie Louw slowed the scoring temporarily as Wishart approached his fifty, which finally came off 55 balls. Vermeulen gradually shed his shackles, and at drinks - after 20 overs with the Namibians maintaining a good over rate - Zimbabwe were exactly 100 without loss.

Vermeulen fell soon afterwards, driving a neck-high catch back to Louw to depart for 39. The opening stand had put on 107 runs in just over 21 overs. Andy Flower came in next, wearing a black armband as a silent and signified protest at the ongoing situation in Zimbabwe. He was soon manoeuvring the ball around the field in his own inimitable style, cruising to 39 off 29 balls without breaking a sweat, before to the delight of the Namibians he slashed at leg-spinner JB Burger in the latter's first over and edged a catch to keeper Morne Karg. Zimbabwe were 174 for two in the 31st over.

With Grant Flower as his new partner, Wishart reached his century with a handsome straight drive for four. It came off exactly 100 balls and he emulated Andy Flower with a century in his first World Cup match, although Andy's (against Sri Lanka in 191/92) was also his official ODI debut.

Runs came off almost every delivery as Wishart and Grant Flower flourished, with the Namibians helpless to prevent the flow of runs. Wishart stormed past Andy Flower's one-day record of 145, scored against India in the ICC Champions Trophy recently, with a pull for four, and then a six over midwicket took him past 150 as he cast all restraint to the winds.

The Namibian bowling became increasingly ragged under the onslaught, and Grant Flower's fifty went almost unnoticed, although he too was scoring at a considerable rate. The next record to fall was Zimbabwe's highest total in one-day cricket, beating their 325 for six against Kenya in 1998/99.

Wishart scored his runs off only 151 balls, and hit 18 fours and 3 sixes. Their third-wicket partnership had added an unbroken 166 off 117 balls, another record for Zimbabwe. Namibia faced an impossible target on their traumatic introduction to World Cup cricket.

Namibia could not have made a worse start to their reply. Heath Streak's first ball was harmless and outside off stump, but Riaan Walters went fishing after it and edged it straight to the keeper. His replacement JB Burger tried to follow suit next ball, but was fortunate enough not to make contact. But Burger took six off the over, with a high lofted off-drive for four and then a similar shot over cover that just failed to hit the ropes.

In the fifth over two slip fielders combined to drop a chance offered by Stephan Swanepoel, but the batsmen were not to be deterred from going for their shots. Burger hit Streak high over extra cover for six and then past cover for four more. They took the score to 40 in the seventh over, with the Zimbabwe bowling looking none too impressive, before Burger skyed a pull off Streak to mid-on and departed for a daring 26 off 18 balls.

Danie Keulder was quickly dropped by wicket-keeper Tatenda Taibu off a low chance, and Zimbabwe's catching was not looking impressive either. The fifty came up in the ninth over, but the threat of rain had by now came into the reckoning. A light rain began to fall in the 16th over, resulting in the players leaving the field with the score on 74 for two.

It took 50 minutes for the rain to stop and play to restart, and Namibia's target was recalculated to 325 off 46 overs. They quickly lost Swanepoel (23), who skied a catch to mid-off off Whittall. At 94, Danie Keulder went for an impressive 27, driving Whittall straight to extra cover. More rain was threatening, so Zimbabwe hurried through their overs to make sure they completed the 25 necessary to ensure a result.

They just succeeded, and also took the wicket of Gavin Murgatroyd (10), caught in the gully off Grant Flower. In the 26th over Namibia were 104 for five when more rain struck, and this time play did not restart.

The ground was never more than half-full, which puzzled Dave Everington, who is in charge of the Zimbabwe World Cup committee and said that all the seats had been accounted for. But there were enough to provide a good atmosphere, and there was no indication of any trouble, from inside the ground at least.

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