Zimbabwe v England, 1st ODI, Harare November 28, 2004

Rusty England dust off the cobwebs

England 197 for 5 (Bell 75, Vaughan 56) beat Zimbabwe 195 (Chigumbura 52, Gough 3-34) by five wickets

Michael Vaughan congratulates Ian Bell on reaching his fifty - the pair added 111 for the second wicket © Getty Images
England won the opening one-dayer of this four match series at Harare Sports Club by five wickets - if the margin of victory gave the impression that this was a contest, the result wasn't ever in doubt. England cruised, losing late wickets as concentration and enthuasiam drifted and running between the wickets took on a comedy air. The performance was unspectacular and somewhat clinical, but a win was what a ring-rusty side needed after the traumas of the last few days.

To give credit to Zimbabwe, they played as well as anyone expected. Their enthusiasm was evident, as was that of the crowd, but sadly so was the enormous gulf between the sides. In an interview on the BBC this morning, former ECB chairman Lord MacLaurin described them as "a third-rate side ... a bunch of club cricketers." That was a little harsh, but not that wide of the mark.

Zimbabwe's innings only spluttered into life in the opening overs, when Stuart Matsikenyeri and Brendan Taylor benefited from Darren Gough and Anderson's profligacy, and later during a breezy sixth-wicket stand of 82 between Dion Ebrahim and Elton Chigumbura.

Tatenda Taibu cleaned up by Darren Gough © Getty Images
The 18-year-old Chigumbura is one of the youngsters who has grasped the chance given by recent conflicts and looked a genuine international prospect. He showed few nerves and tremendous confidence, albeit with a lack of self-control as highlighted by the heave which eventually cost him his wicket, but his 47-ball 52 brought a decent-sized crowd to life. He signalled his intent with a top-edged four over the wicketkeeper, but a subsequent straight six and clubbed pull through midwicket were class.

The shame was that both he and the dreary Ebrahim fell within five balls at a time England were just beginning to look a little ragged. Early successes after Vaughan had won the toss, aided by three top-order batsmen playing on, had given way to frustration. Zimbabwe's naivete was underlined by the way their tail succumbed to a series of swishes and ridiculous run-outs.

Their most unnecessary own goal involved Mark Vermeulen and Ebrahim, two of the more experienced players. They had briefly stopped the rot after Zimbabwe had lost three quick wickets when Vermeulen was run out by a superb diving stop and throw by Andrew Strauss at backward point - the misunderstanding was such that the batsmen had barely crossed at the moment of the direct hit.

All England's bowlers, with the exception Alex Wharf in his opening spell, struggled at times, and the total of 17 wides might have been decisive against any other opponents. But it was preferable England got it out of their system against Zimbabwe before heading south in eight days time.

Chasing 196 - about 50 short of anything likely to cause real jitters -England lost Vikram Solanki for 7 early on, but then a stand of 111 in 23 overs between Ian Bell (rarely can a debutant have faced a more friendly international attack) and Vaughan ended the contest.

Alex Wharf celebrates his first wicket © Getty Images
Christopher Mpofu, 19 yesterday and making his debut, bowled a superb opening spell, conceding six off five overs, but otherwise there was far too much inconsistency to trouble the batsmen. Entrusted with the new ball, Tinashe Panyangara lacked any control, and the experienced Hondo wasn't much better. Only the introduction of some fairly ordinary spin upset England's applecart. Vaughan departed for 56, falling short attempting to heave Stuart Matsikenyeri airily over the midwicket boundary, and then Andrew Strauss spooned an attempted drive back to Matsikenyeri for 8.

With two inexperienced batsmen - Bell and debutant Kevin Pietersen - at the crease - a little pressure might have brought another wicket. But Tatenda Taibu held back, probably as a result of spending almost all his brief career as captain on the back foot. Although Bell somehow contrived to nick the innocuous offspin of Taylor to Taibu for 75 and then Paul Collingwood ran himself out, it was too little, far too late.

One suspects that this represented Zimbabwe's best chance of an uspet. England now know their opponent's strengths and weaknesses and have dusted off many of their own accumulated cobwebs. It should be one-way traffic hereon in.

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Wisden Cricinfo