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The Bulletin by Martin Williamson
November 28, 2004
England 197 for 5 (Bell 75, Vaughan 56) beat Zimbabwe 195 (Chigumbura 52, Gough 3-34) by five wickets
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.
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.
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
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