February 24, 2003

Zimbabwe go down fighting to Australia

Under a cloudless blue sky, Australia continued their victorious World Cup progress with a seven-wicket victory against Zimbabwe. It was a harder fight than many expected, as they had only 15 balls in hand at the end.

It was fortunate for Australia that the match was played at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo rather than at Harare, where prolonged rain would probably have resulted in the match being abandoned.

Zimbabwe won the toss and decided to bat. The pitch in Bulawayo is invariably rather slow and lifeless for pace bowlers, even in the early morning. They made one change, replacing opener Mark Vermeulen with Doug Marillier, the man whom Australia will well remember for almost snatching a match from their grasp in Perth two years ago with his famous `shovel' shot. Australia reverted to their strongest team, taking no chances.

Zimbabwe made a rather nervous start to their innings, with Guy Whittall promoted again to open with Craig Wishart. No doubt there were unvoiced regrets about the absence from the squad of the experienced Alistair Campbell.

There were a couple of nervy singles before Wishart hit Glenn McGrath through the covers for the first boundary. Immediately, though, Whittall tried to pull Gillespie and skied a catch to square leg.

This brought in Andy Flower, whose presence seemed to give Wishart confidence, and runs came more freely. Flower looked much more himself than he had done against India, and hit Gillespie for two classical off-side fours off successive deliveries. Perhaps the altitude prevented the Australians from bowling with their usual consistent pinpoint accuracy, although it could never be said that they bowled poorly.

The pull shot again proved fatal for Zimbabwe when Wishart attempted the shot against Gillespie and dragged the ball on to his stumps via the bottom edge; Zimbabwe were 28 for two.

Australia's bowlers tightened up and the Flower brothers were forced to struggle for runs, which came at scarcely three an over; their fifty partnership came up off 94 balls. On 41 Andy survived an edge off Brett Lee to a vacant first slip position, but 'keeper Adam Gilchrist was unable to reach the chance.

Andy finally reached his fifty off 77 balls, and then the team 100 came up off 26.5 overs. Grant appeared almost anonymous in partnership with his brother, but he did play a magnificent straight drive for four past Lee. He had reached 37 and was just beginning to look more fluent when he was run out. It was Andy's call for a quick but safe two, but Grant at first refused the second run and then came too late. Zimbabwe were 112 for three in the 30th over.

Andy went on to 62 off 94 balls before he lay back to drive a ball from Brad Hogg that hurried through and hit his off stump. The innings then looked in danger of grinding to a complete halt. Dion Ebrahim on 4 should have been run out and had given up, stranded in mid-pitch, but bowler Damian Martyn unaccountably flicked the ball at the stumps from two yards and missed.

The reprieve seemed to persuade Ebrahim temporarily to be more aggressive, but he only scored 15 before he swept at Hogg and was bowled behind his legs. Marillier fell first ball, sweeping Hogg straight to midwicket, and Zimbabwe had subsided at 142 for five after 37 overs.

Andy Blignaut was Zimbabwe's last hope of a reasonable total, and he obliged with some powerful pulls and drives, including 18 (one to Tatenda Taibu) off an over from Gillespie. Hogg went for six, four and six off successive balls, and he reached 50 off just 25 balls, second only for Zimbabwe to Marillier's match-winning fifty off 21 balls against India last season.

Blignaut fell for 54, scored off 28 balls, hammering back a full toss straight to Lee. He hit 2 sixes and 8 fours, and in the 45th over the Zimbabwe score had shot up to 208 for six. Taibu and Heath Streak took up the assault with a little less power, although Streak hit Lee for a big six over long-off. McGrath bowled Taibu (23) and Murphy (1) in the final over, while Streak finished unbeaten with 28.

Zimbabwe's 246 for nine was the highest total against Australia so far this tournament. Hogg with three for 46 was the most successful bowler.

Suicide pilot Adam Gilchrist launched Australia's reply in typical fashion, hammering Streak straight for a mistimed but effective boundary. In the second over, by which time he had 13, he sliced a difficult chance to thirdman off Blignaut, but it went down.

Gilchrist took most of the strike and had 23 before Matthew Hayden too got off the mark in typical fashion, driving Blignaut straight for four. The fifty partnership took 49 balls, with Gilchrist scoring 39 of them. Taibu, standing up to Douglas Hondo, believed he had caught Gilchrist at the same score, but umpire Bowden rejected the confident appeal.

At this stage Gilchrist seemed to run out of adrenaline and went through a quiet period before reaching his fifty off 45 balls. He was immediately dropped by Marillier, a hard return catch, but Hayden was less fortunate: flicking Hondo down the leg side, he was superbly caught low done at fine leg by Grant Flower. Australia were 89 for one.

Gilchrist finally hit Marillier straight to deep midwicket to make Australia 113 for two in the 22nd over. It was strange how becalmed he became after racing to 39, but he had put the Australian innings well on course.

Ricky Ponting and Martyn put on 53 together by unspectacular methods before Ponting drove a straight-forward return catch to Brian Murphy. Darren Lehmann came in, but Zimbabwe were now able to put Australia under a certain degree of pressure as the runs still did not flow.

Marillier, taking over the role of Grant Flower who hurt his spinning finger against India, did the job to perfection, bowling his ten overs for just 32 runs and the wicket of Gilchrist.

Streak rang his bowling changes to try to break the partnership of Martyn and Lehmann, who elected to follow the cool, calm and assured route home. Lehmann hardly seemed to break sweat as he cruised to his fifty before the close off just 43 balls, quickly followed by Martyn off 69 balls. A pull by Lehmann that almost carried for six over long leg finished the match. Lehmann finished on 56 and Martyn on 50.