June 4, 2003

Stewart and McGrath restore order

Close England 298 for 5 (Stewart 67*, McGrath 68*) v Zimbabwe

Alec Stewart became England's second-highest run-scorer in Tests, and Anthony McGrath took his average after two matches to 137, as England completed the first day of Test cricket at Durham in a predictably dominant position. What was less predictable, however, was the route they took to the top. After a steady start, England lost four wickets for 60 runs in the afternoon session, including three in 11 balls to Douglas Hondo, and it wasn't until Stewart and McGrath had added an unbeaten 142 for the sixth wicket that England could reclaim the ascendancy.

Anthony McGrath: half-century rescued England from 156 for 5

England reached the close on 298 for 5, thanks in part to a belated flurry of runs against the new ball, when Stewart and McGrath plundered 43 in seven overs. The rest of the day, however, had been attritional. Marcus Trescothick and Mark Butcher made a pair of controlled 40s, but Michael Vaughan's uncertain form continued, while Robert Key managed a solitary four before getting himself out, virtually guaranteeing his return to the ranks when Andrew Flintoff recovers from his shoulder problem.

After winning first use of a belter of a pitch, England's progress in the morning session was steady but unspectacular. After another nervy start, Vaughan twinkled five fours in 14 balls to hint at a return to form, but once again got himself out with the hard work done (49 for 1). Trescothick had a couple of moments of discomfort as well, but he went to lunch on 36 not out, and moved into the 40s by hoisting Ray Price for a chancy six that plopped just out of reach of Sean Ervine at deep midwicket. But Price struck back in the very next over, when Trescothick mistimed a sweep, which bobbled off his gloves for Tatenda Taibu to scoop a well-judged catch down the leg side (109 for 2).

Price had found the perfect length and a hint of turn to keep things tight from one end, but it was the unassuming outswing of Hondo who ripped the heart out of England's middle order. Butcher, the Man of the Match at Lord's, had played watchfully for his 47, but lost his concentration when Hondo was reintroduced. Hondo's first four overs of the day had been distinctly wayward, but second time around, he immediately settled into a fine off-stump line, albeit studded with no-balls, and Butcher chopped his third legal delivery onto his stumps (146 for 3).

Key needed a good score in this match after a winter of near-misses, and his first shot in anger was a sweetly timed back-foot drive for four off Hondo. Hondo struck back immediately, however, as Key miscued an attempted pull and was well caught by Grant Flower, diving forward at square leg. There was the usual doubt about whether the ball had carried, but Peter Willey, no-nonsense as ever, confirmed the decision from the third umpire's box (152 for 4).

Michael Vaughan: the first man to be dismissed in Tests at Durham

Hondo still wasn't finished, and in the same over he produced the best ball of his spell, a good-length outswinger that caught the edge of Nasser Hussain's bat and flew through to Taibu (156 for 5). Hussain, captaining England for the 100th time in all internationals, had fallen for 18 - the latest of a lean run of scores this season. He had looked to dominate early in his innings, swiping Price over long-on for four before driving him handsomely for a straight six in the same over, but he quickly reverted to the attritional approach, with less-than-ideal results.

Stewart immediately launched a counterattack, lashing Andy Blignaut for three fours in an over, and shortly after tea, he overhauled the watching David Gower's former England record of 8231 Test runs. McGrath, full of confidence after his 69 on debut at Lord's, was composed and occasionally explosive, with a vast straight six off Price and a sweet back-foot drive off Hondo. He was particularly adept at clipping the seamers off his toes, and reached his second half-century in consecutive innings with a perfectly timed four through midwicket.

It wasn't all plain sailing in the evening session, however, and as the new ball approached, England began to get distinctly jittery. McGrath was badly dropped on 32 off Blignaut, a top-edged hook to backward square-leg which Price punched over the boundary for good measure, while Stewart was forced to sprint faster than any 40-year-old since Linford Christie to avoid being run out in Flower's solitary over. Stewart brought up his 44th Test fifty with a nudge off his pads, but he too was badly dropped - on 54 - as Streak squared him up with the new ball and Ervine shelled a sitter at first slip.

The weather (clear blue skies and a hint of breeze) and the turnout (8000 tickets sold in advance) were absolutely to Durham's liking on their first day of Test cricket. And happily, an agreement was reached with the Stop The Tour campaign as well, which maintained a vigilant and vocal protest against Robert Mugabe's regime from outside the gates, without bringing their demonstrations onto the pitch. Before the match, England finally - after seven years of near-misses - handed a first cap to Richard Johnson, with James Kirtley sent back to play for Sussex for the second Test running.