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December 4, 2004
England 239 for 2 (Solanki 100, Bell 53, Vaughan 54*) beat Zimbabwe 238 for 7 (Matsikenyeri 73, Ebrahim 65) by 8 wickets, and lead series 3-0
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
A blistering opening assault from Vikram Solanki and Ian Bell hurtled England towards a convincing eight-wicket victory at Bulawayo. Solanki was out for a round 100, his second one-day century, but although England finished more sedately they still won - and clinched the four-match series - with 41 balls to spare.
The suspicion that Zimbabwe's total of 238 was well below par on a good pitch was proved by England's openers, who added 138 at breakneck speed, bewildering the inexperienced bowlers. After 15 overs, at which point Zimbabwe had pottered to 45 without loss, Solanki and Bell had piled on 119 runs.
At first Solanki dealt almost entirely in boundaries. He reached 36 with nine fours, including four in a row in Elton Chigumbura's first over. He was dismissive off his legs, but the pick of those fours was a classical cover-drive, hammered into the ground at such pace that it looped over the ring of fielders and arrowed to the rope. Later he bettered even that, by clobbering Christopher Mpofu back over his head for an effortless six.
Solanki eventually slowed down, proceeding through the nineties with a succession of stately singles, but still reached his century from only 89 deliveries, with 14 fours and two sixes. He was out two balls later, lofting Stuart Matsikenyeri - the fifth bowler tried and the only one to take a wicket - to long-off. He did enjoy a little luck: when he had 38 he was dropped off successive balls from the despairing Tinashe Panyangara, by Mpofu at mid-off and then by Brendan Taylor at short midwicket. Neither chance was terribly difficult, and followed another clanger in the previous over, when Bell (17) chipped to mid-on but Prosper Utseya spilled the chance.
Bell himself was no slouch with the bat. He got going with a flicked six over square leg off Panyangara, and later unrolled a textbook cover-driven four and a whipped square boundary off the bemused Mpofu. He had just passed his second half-century in three ODIs when he nicked an attempted cut through to Tatenda Taibu (138 for 1).
In came Michael Vaughan, content to push the ball around and shepherd Solanki to his century. No heroics were needed, and although the run rate dipped as Matsikenyeri and Utseya bustled down their offspin, England were never in any danger - except perhaps from the weather, which was threatening all afternoon and delayed the restart for an hour.
Zimbabwe's 238 earlier in the day was a solid effort, if well short of what was required on what turned out to be a perfect batting track. Noel Peck, the groundsman, and his staff probably deserved Solanki's Man of the Match medal for their efforts - the track was a belter even though they weren't able to mow it yesterday because of rain.
Zimbabwe started slowly against some purposeful bowling, mindful of the need to avoid a familiar collapse. Alex Wharf - brisk and straight, with a dash of attitude - continued his impressive tour with a tight opening spell, once dumping Taylor on his backside as he tried a hook. James Anderson, although occasionally wayward wide-wise, was unlucky when Taylor's edge flew through the untenanted slip area. But Taylor, having done the hard work while the field was up, fell to the first ball of the 16th over, feathering one Jones through to another - a maiden ODI wicket for shaven-headed Simon, who replaced Darren Gough for this match and became the latest member of England's new-bald new-ball attack.
Matsikenyeri reined in his natural aggression, only occasionally allowing himself his favourite cuts. A couple rasped through the covers early on - one, in Simon Jones's first over, threatened to burn the grass - and shortly afterwards he leant back and larruped Jones over point for six. Impetuosity has often been Matsikenyeri's downfall in the past - his highest score in 35 previous ODIs was 44 - but this time he stuck at it until, at 73, he top-edged a paddle-sweep off Vaughan to short backward square (143 for 2).
The first over of Jones's next spell was an eventful one, containing two run-outs which derailed the Zimbabwean innings just as they were threatening to cut loose. First Mark Vermeulen was guilty of ball-watching as Paul Collingwood scooted round from point and threw down the stumps, then a mix-up found Chigumbura stranded in mid-pitch before he'd even faced a ball (165 for 4).
Matsikenyeri added 98 with Dion Ebrahim, who stuck fast at the crease, nudging and nurdling neatly, and occasionally trying to break up the field with reverse-sweeps out of the Andy Flower coaching book. He perished right at the end, but his 65 occupied 94 balls, suggesting an inability to rotate the strike.
Lacking the big hitters who clattered 104 in England's last ten overs in the previous game, Zimbabwe - for whom Taibu entered too low in the order at No. 7 - could collect only 73 in the same time to lift the total to 238. It never looked like being enough.
The series concludes tomorrow, with the second of Bulawayo's back-to-back matches.
Steven Lynch is editor of Cricinfo.
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