July 6, 2000

Zimbabwe shock win brings NatWest Series to life

Neil Johnson
Neil Johnson - first star of the new series
Photo © CricInfo

Bristol, NatWest Series: West Indies (232 for seven off 50 overs) lost to Zimbabwe (233 for four off 45 overs) by six wickets.

NatWest Series

The NatWest Series has come to life, thanks to the shock result of the first match in the programme. Against all expectations, a Zimbabwe team castrated by the in part avoidable absence through injury of its three top bowlers gained a comfortable six-wicket victory over a West Indian team that appeared quite unprepared in the field for a stern contest. It was Zimbabwe's first win over West Indies in any form of cricket, and they have now beaten each of the other Test-playing countries at least once.

The Man of the Match was once again all-rounder Neil Johnson, who in an uncharacteristically restrained innings, until passing his fifty at any rate, stayed to the end for 95 not out. He received fine support from the Flower brothers in particular, while the West Indian bowling and fielding was well below par, lacking the discipline shown by the Zimbabweans. Zimbabwe, strongly favoured to be on their way home before the final, have shown they are a force to be reckoned with after all. It may be more difficult to maintain their form, but they have set the running.

West Indies' steady start

Bryan Strang, bowling speed in the lower seventies, opened for Zimbabwe to Adrian Griffith of West Indies in the NatWest Series limited-overs match at Bristol - two singles nudged to third man coming off his first over. After the rain of the preceding days the ground at the start was less than half full, but encouragingly with a large proportion of children.

Nkala had a close lbw appeal, although off the front foot, against Gayle rejected by umpire Peter Willey in his second over, and both bowlers beat the batsmen off the pitch occasionally; in fact after several overs they were showing signs of frustration at being tied down by accurate bowling and tight fielding. The first boundary did not come until the ninth over when Gayle, who had scored only two singles before then, drove Strang through the covers, and then lashed three more off-side boundaries in Nkala's next over. In his following over, though, Nkala struck back by having Griffith (10) caught by Brent at mid-off lashing out with a touch of desperation; West Indies 33 for one.

Gayle continued to bombard the covers with his powerful drives, and greeted Brent in his first over with a lofted four, almost a six, wide of midwicket. Hinds excelled that with a six over Brent's head as the West Indian batsmen slowly began to establish their dominance. Hinds followed this up by swinging Viljoen to the square-leg boundary when the left-arm spinner came on to bowl the 20th over, and some of the heads began to droop as the fielders knew they hadn't the firepower to do anything about the accelerating run rate, now up almost to four an over.

Hinds enjoyed an escape on 34 when he lobbed a ball from Brent high into the vacant mid-off position, but no fielder was within reach. The 100 came up in the 28th over, fine fielding and a slow pitch at this stage making up for toothless bowling.

He who hesitates ....

It seemed that the only way the batsmen could be parted was with a run-out - and that was what happened. Hinds played Whittall into the covers where Grant Flower fielded; as it was to his right (he being a left-handed fielder) there was probably a quick run there, and Gayle thought so, charging down the pitch unilaterally. Hinds stayed put; the throw was to the wrong end, the keeper's, but with the two Caribbean left-handers stopping in the batsman's crease for a summit conference to discuss the rapidly deteriorating situation, there was all the time in the world for Andy Flower to lob the ball to the bowler to complete the run-out. Gayle made 41 out of 101 for two.

The greatest cheer of the day to date greeted Lara's first aggressive stroke, an off-driven boundary off Whittall, which was followed by another through extra cover later in the over, and an action replay of the extra-cover one in Whittall's next over. Hinds' fifty went almost unnoticed, scored off 72 balls, as Lara dominated the stage. But Hinds wasn 't around to play second fiddle for long, going on the long drive against Viljoen and hitting a catch straight to Wishart at long-off; out for 51, from 135 for three.

The explosive Ricky Powell came in next to try to take advantage of the situation. Threatening, but rarely delivering, a four every ball, he did start by outscoring Lara. He finally reached the boundary at midwicket with a lofted shot off Nkala that just beat the fielder, and followed it with a thunderous four through extra cover. Further powerful boundaries followed, including a six over long-on off Brent. Attempting another over extra cover next ball, though, he holed out to Grant Flower near the boundary for 36, scored off 33 balls; West Indies 191 for four in the 44th over.

Fierce boundaries and superb straight six

Lara ran to his fifty in the 47th over with two fierce off-side boundaries off Brent, and later in the over hit him for a superb straight six. In the next over, though, he drove a straight-forward catch off Grant Flower to Neil Johnson in the covers to be out for 60; West Indies 222 for five.

Franklyn Rose came in next, but was doomed to fail; he had not scored when, unable to put bat within touching distance of the ball, he was trapped lbw by Brent; 223 for six. Jimmy Adams continued to stay in the pavilion while McLean (2) briefly attended the crease, only to be superbly run out by the ubiquitous Grant Flower, fielding off his own bowling from extra cover; 225 for seven. The `crisis' finally tempted Adams from his den in this the last over, from which a further seven runs were scored; Jacobs was unbeaten on 16 and Adams on 2.

Zimbabwe survive odd danger

Zimbabwe have rarely had the opportunity to bat under lights before, but King seemed happy to give them a reasonable start to their innings with a regular supply of wides and no-balls. Johnson and Wishart ran some good singles, with the first boundary coming in the fourth over, a lofted cut by Wishart that was fumbled by third man. King and Rose may be faster than the Zimbabwean bowlers, and nowadays faster than Ambrose and Walsh as well, but they did not show the same accuracy and the Zimbabweans had no trouble in keeping the score ticking over. But the odd danger ball came through, and it was one of these from Rose that flew off Wishart's glove to be superbly caught by the diving Powell at backward point.

In the same over, Johnson made the point that Zimbabwe should not be written off yet with a superb trademark drive through extra cover for four. He and Goodwin indulged in some daring running between wickets and found enough off-line deliveries to reach the boundary more frequently than the early West Indian players had done. Goodwin overtook Johnson with two successive off-side boundaries, fiercely hit, off Rose, but then drove a firm catch straight to Hinds at short extra cover; out for 23, the score 57 for two.

Marvellous flick to boundary

Campbell, without an international run off the middle of the bat on tour so far, began like a man at the bottom of his form, but a couple of firm hits past point off McLean steadied him, and a marvellous flick to the midwicket boundary brought rare appreciation from the crowd. Suddenly he was looking like the Campbell of old again, with the Goweresque timing. And suddenly he was indeed the Campbell of old, sparring outside the off stump to Dillon to be caught at the wicket for 17, although it was a good testing delivery that did it. Zimbabwe were 90 for three in the 18th over, well up with the scoring rate as long as the wickets held out.

Andy Flower looked confident from the moment he came in and brought up the hundred in the 20th over with a typical lash backward of point for four. When on 14 he had a very confident appeal for a catch at the wicket off Dillon rejected by umpire Jeremy Lloyds, and the replay appeared to back this as a good decision, but the West Indians were most dismayed. Good running and selective hitting were taking Zimbabwe into a position from which, against all expectations, they might be able to force victory.

Johnson reached his fifty with a typical off-drive for four off King, but in the bowler's next over the fine partnership came to an end, as Flower (42) slashed and was caught by Gayle atfirst slip. Zimbabwe were now 160 for four in the 36th over after a stand of 70, and the required run rate was about five an over.

West Indian fielding less competent

Johnson improved the situation with two fours in King's next over, when he was robbed of another by the untimely intervention of the stumps at the bowler's end - freakily, only a few minutes later Grant Flower was similarly deprived. It must be said that at times the stumps were more reliable than some of the West Indian fielders, who were much less competent than the Zimbabweans had been. Further boundaries came, and it was clear that Johnson was the key man - if he stayed, Zimbabwe would win. With ten overs remaining, Zimbabwe needed another 39 runs.

When Grant Flower lofted McLean over long-on for six and then off-drove a four next ball, it was clear that not even a Zimbabwe team with a history of `chocking' could mess up this one. The strokes deprived Johnson of the chance to reach a well-deserved century, but it was a sacrifice he would doubtless be willing to make in exchange for Zimbabwe's first-ever victory over West Indies. It was ironically a wide from Jimmy Adams, conceding defeat by coming on to bowl the 46th but clearly the final over of the innings that ended the match. Zimbabwe were 233 for four, with Johnson unbeaten on 95 and Grant Flower on 26.