A review of Zimbabwe's world Cup warm-ups (13 May 1999)

13 May 1999

A review of Zimbabwe's world Cup warm-ups

Review by John Ward

As far as Zimbabwe were concerned, 'warm-up' was certainly a misnomer for these matches. A draw at Worcester was followed by defeats at Derby and Edgbaston, and nobody could have been more astounded or upset than the Zimbabwe players themselves.

Friday 7 May: Worcestershire v Zimbabwe

At Worcester. WORCESTERSHIRE 45/1. Rain stopped play.

For Zimbabwe's coach Dave Houghton it was an all too familiar sight: rain stopping play at New Road, Worcester. Houghton was Worcestershire's coach between 1995 and 1997, and in his final year in particular the weather played havoc with Worcestershire more than most other counties. At the scheduled starting time of 10.45 there was a steady drizzle, which soon stopped, but left plenty of evidence of its visit on the covers and outfield.. The ground staff did a sterling job of work removing it, and thoughts were turning to a 12-noon start when the drizzle returned.

Finally, after more mopping up, play started at 2 p.m., with Zimbabwe putting the county in to bat on winning the toss. The Zimbabwe bowlers found it difficult getting their direction, especially Heath Streak, who bowled several wides. The county openers Philip Weston and Paul Pollard, who has done quite a bit of coaching in Zimbabwe, found it difficult to get the score moving. Pollard was dropped early on by Grant Flower at backward point, a high chance and a startling lapse by a brilliant fielder; he could well have failed to pick up the ball against the background of the stands.

With a desperate heave, Weston lofted Pommie Mbangwa over his head for four, but did not last long, as a mix-up led to a run-out by Murray Goodwin at midwicket. Vikram Solanki replaced him, but shortly afterwards the rain began again. The decision whether to continue or not was left to Zimbabwe, and to the appreciation of a crowd of several hundred they decided to stay. But it was only a temporary respite; and soon the players had to go off, never to return. Less than 50 minutes' play had been possible, and very soon afterwards the ground authorities announced the inevitable: the match was abandoned. Zimbabwe had had little opportunity to assess their form, but 17 extras was not a good sign.

Sunday 9 May: Derbyshire v Zimbabwe

At Derby. ZIMBABWE 178 (Neil Johnson 31). DERBYSHIRE 179/5 (Michael May 41, Matt Cassar 90). Derbyshire won by five wickets.

The day was predominantly overcast, but the threat of rain never materialised. Recent conditions had been wet, though, resulting in a low, slow pitch of uneven bounce which also provided quite a bit of movement and turn.

Zimbabwe, put in to bat, scored just a single in the first two overs, with Andy Harris bowling an impressive opening over to Neil Johnson, but then Johnson and Grant Flower began to open out, until after five overs the score was 25. Flower on 12 was dropped from a low chance at backward point, but the first wicket put on 41 until Flower skied a catch to extra cover. Johnson flicked a six over deep square leg that narrowly missed a car, but then decline set in.

As Dave Houghton was to say later, the team batted like a bunch of schoolboys. They seemed unable to keep the score ticking over with ones and twos, and some very poor strokes were played, with Whittall's dismissal, clean bowled essaying a pull, perhaps the worst. Paul Strang, until running himself out unnecessarily, Eddo Brandes and Andrew Whittall fought back as well as they could, but 178 was certainly a disappointing total. Houghton said that 250 would have been unbeatable, but his batsmen did not seem to know what to do. Eight reached double figures, but nobody overtook Johnson's 31.

The lunch interval was made notable, if that is the correct word, by some World Cup music if THAT is the correct word! The local spectators were not impressed, and an announcement was made over the public address system to inform everybody just what it was and to say that they 'have to play it, whether they like it or not'!

Zimbabwe's bowlers, without Heath Streak who was nursing a minor knee strain, again found direction rather hard to come by. The county's batting was basically pedestrian, with the anchor role played by Michael May, who has a much better record against tourists than in the county championship. The exception was Matt Cassar, who successfully put an atrocious start to the season behind him and played some fine strokes. He hit four sixes and seven fours in his innings and looked well set for a century.

He was on 90 when his partner Stephen Titchard drove a ball from Grant Flower back down the pitch, and Cassar accidentally impeded Flower from stopping it. He then called a reluctant Titchard for a single, which is not generally regarded as good cricket etiquette in such circumstances. Next ball, however, he pulled Flower to fine leg, to be caught by substitute fielder Henry Olonga. Spectators generally seemed to agree that this was instant poetic justice.

Derbyshire were running out of overs, as Zimbabwe fought back well and four wickets fell in reasonably quick succession. Andrew Whittall came on to bowl the final over with four runs needed for victory, and a single off each of the first four balls, some rather hastily scampered, did the trick for the county. Houghton was not impressed.

Tuesday 11 May. Warwickshire v Zimbabwe

At Edgbaston (Birmingham). WARWICKSHIRE 171 (Dougie Brown 49, Tony Frost 33*; Eddo Brandes 3/25, Adam Huckle 3/28). ZIMBABWE 106 (Graeme Welch 4/26). Warwickshire won by 65 runs.

Drizzle delayed the start by 25 minutes and reduced the match by a rather ludicrous one over per side. As it was, the new 49-over limitation was purely academic, as neither side survived that long on a pitch that gave the seam bowlers a great deal of movement.

Warwickshire batted on winning the toss, and were soon in deep trouble at 41 for five. Eddo Brandes, opening the bowling, was not particularly fast, but he bowled with accuracy and movement., while Neil Johnson at the other end also looked impressive. Zimbabwe's fielding, apart from a couple of rare misfields, had some fine moments. Murray Goodwin flung himself high to his left to pull down a drive from David Hemp to extra cover, while Eddo Brandes did even better.

The former Zimbabwean Trevor Penney no doubt hoped to do well against his former team. Unlike Graeme Hick (whether on tour with England or not), Penney frequently returns to Zimbabwe in the off season to put something back into the game in the country that nurtured his talent, but that is a different ball game. Brandes seems to take pleasure in dismissing former Prince Edward schoolmates, as Hick has found to his cost.. Before scoring, Penney popped up a ball towards mid-on, but it was obviously going to fall short of the fielder. Brandes, however, still following through, flung himself yards to his right and held on to a brilliant catch.

Brandes completed his spell of 10 overs for 25 runs and three wickets without a break, but Zimbabwe were resting Heath Streak and Pommie Mbangwa, and Henry Olonga did not find enough accuracy or movement to maintain the pressure. Douggie Brown and Graeme Welch effected a steady recovery with a stand of 70. After it was broken, though, Adam Huckle took three wickets despite conditions rather unsuitable for his attacking hard-wicket leg-spin. Tony Frost, the wicket-keeper, hit boldly for a while, sweeping Huckle for two fine sixes, but a single cost him the strike and his last partner Tim Munton.

Zimbabwe certainly fancied their chances of scoring 172 to win, but never actually looked on course for it. Welch and Munton had them on the back foot right from the start, and they never had the measure of the pitch. Their first four batsmen fell for 26, while Alistair Campbell was dropped off a return catch to Welch before scoring.

The batsmen were clearly trying to be more patient than they had been at Derby, but struggled so much against good bowling on this helpful pitch that they seldom seemed able to get the ball off the square; when they did, it was not infrequently in the air. Guy Whittall, top scorer with 25, looked perhaps the least uncomfortable, but Zimbabwe never really looked like taking control. A gradual procession ended in humiliation.

Alistair Campbell is a positive character, and although obviously disappointed was not depressed or deeply worried. He cited the conditions as the main problem with his team's batting, and agreed with the suggestion that many of his players, although not over-confident, had not appreciated just how difficult it is to adapt to English conditions, especially in May. He took heart at Zimbabwe's good performances in bowling and fielding but the batsmen need to score enough runs to give them a chance. As Dave Houghton said, it is probably not a long-term problem. But there is certainly no chance that Zimbabwe will be taking their first World Cup match against Kenya lightly.