June 6, 2003

A pitiful procession

England v Zimbabwe, 2nd Test, Chester-le-Street, Day 2
After writing Zimbabwe off yesterday, when they'd had quite a decent day in the field, I felt a bit of a heel. They had bowled reasonably tightly, after all, the ground fielding was excellent, and only the catching let them down a bit. Surely not really worst-ever material?

But today they had to bat. Hard-wicket technique, pushing the hands boldly at the ball and playing around the front pad, isn't ideal for early-season England, and the Zimbabwean batsmen were found out. Again. They weren't helped by a couple of dodgy lbw decisions - Dion Ebrahim got a big inside edge, and Heath Streak's leave-alone leg-before looked less out than to a confident shout a few balls before - but none of the batsmen exuded any confidence during a pitiful procession on a pretty good pitch.

It's not surprising, when you look at the figures. Stuart Carlisle is playing in his 29th Test, and has a highest score of 77 and average of 25. Grant Flower may be the only tourist with a Test century under his belt, but his 8 today matched his overall average in England. And Tatenda Taibu at No. 5? He has the potential to be a handy Test No. 7 or 8, but he's overplaced any higher.

Richard Johnson had a field day, starting with two wickets in his first over and finishing with 6 for 33, the best debut performance for England since Dominic Cork swung his way to 7 for 43 at Lord's in 1995. Johnson did the simple things right, pitching the ball up and darting it about at a waspish pace.

So is Johnson the new Cork, or just another Ed Giddins (5 for 15 against the Zimbos in 2000, hardly seen since)? It's too early to tell, but after the injuries he's suffered since first being called up for England nearly seven years ago he deserved a good start, and he did the basics well. The South Africans will show his true worth. It's tough on Zimbabwe, but their current side is taking the test out of Test cricket.

Steven Lynch is editor of Wisden CricInfo.

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