July 10, 2000

Three Teams in 2000 Nat West One Day Competition; Only One Winner!!

NatWest Series

If anyone had been sufficiently objective in trying to select a winner, before the start, of this presently ongoing NatWest One-Day Competition, they certainly should have selected England first. After all, neither of the other two teams involved should have been as settled, and as organized, as England should have been. There is so much one-day cricket being played in England, as a part of the county season, that the English players should obviously be more adept to this form of the game than the other two teams combined.

Conversely, the West Indies, recently, have struggled somewhat in the one-day game, with Pakistan winning the one-day series held in the Caribbean. Zimbabwe, while acknowledged as perhaps a better one-day team than a Test team, also did not play that creditably in the Caribbean. Both teams were also looking for combinations which could play well, not to mention win, and have both had injuries and missing personnel too. Both teams' bowlers were suggested to be struggling with consistency, thus being somewhat unreliable in the one-day game. Some of this might still be true.

Yet, after the first round of the NatWest One-Day series, neither the West Indies nor England look likely winners. To coin a horse racing term, "The horse in front is the likely winner." That "horse", or team, is Zimbabwe, who, to date, have won both of their games easily.

Clint Eastwood suggests that "a man should know his limitations." The Zimbabweans have certainly used whatever limited resources they have at their disposal, so far playing much better with their limitations than the other two teams. With still much cricket to be had in this series, Zimbabwe look a likely winner!! This remember, with a squad which includes fast bowlers Heath Streak and Henry Olonga, but with a team which, so far, has included neither, because of injury.

Just before the start of the first game of this NatWest series featuring the West Indies and Zimbabwe, at Bristol, some of the press guys were "shooting the breeze" with that erstwhile ICC Match Referee, Ranjan Madugalle, the former Sri Lankan all-rounder. Definitely one of the better ICC Match Referees, always approachable, Madugalle suggested that "each international Test or One-Day cricket team actually has its own 'characteristics.'"

He went on to suggest, as a very real, vivid example, that while many teams have tried to emulate the efforts of Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana, the Sri Lankan one-day openers who always try to score at least 75 runs in the first 15 overs when the restrictions are on, invented in the 1996 World Cup, no other team has really managed to be fully and consistently successful at it.

In the press conference after his team had beaten England at the Oval, Zimbabwe's captain Andy Flower suggested something similar. When asked about his personal, and indeed, his team's batsmen's continued use of the "reverse sweep", Andy Flower answered with a smile;

"That is a shot we have perfected somewhat. Even the best team in the world at the moment, the Australians, do not do it so much or so well, and perhaps, since they are the best in the world, maybe we should not be doing it either. However, it works for us, so why not use it anyway."

Zimbabwe are not only playing well, and to their own limitations, but they are smart enough to even identify their strengths, their team's "characteristics". Their batsmen use the same strokes, generally, to make runs as every other team in international cricket today. However, they also add, at regular intervals, that "reverse sweep" and a few "inside-out slashes" too to backward point and points on the off-side, to deliveries aimed to the leg-side by the bowlers. These improvisations must anger and even confuse the opposition's bowlers, thus giving the advantages to the Zimbabweans.

It is with their bowling, though, that they have had the greater success, limited it might seem to outsiders. Alec Stewart, when asked at that same press conference as to "why was England struggling against a 'second string' bowling attack", suggested the following:

"Firstly, our batting let us down badly. With the start we had (136-1 in over No. 28), we should have made more against Zimbabwe than we did (207 all out in over No. 50). Secondly, I think that there is a great mistake being made here. While Zimbabwe's bowlers are not perhaps the express type we may be accustomed to as provided by the West Indies, Australia, South Africa or Pakistan, they are not 'second string' but international bowlers and, obviously from the results, they are highly effective at their game."

Alec Stewart is a very cunning captain, and understands this cricket game exceedingly well. To back up his theory, the Zimbabwe bowlers undermined the West Indies when they were going well in that first game at Bristol, changing a promising West Indies total of 135-3 (36 overs) to a very unsatisfactory 232-7 (50 overs). That was certainly not good enough to win a one-day game these days. Against England at the Kennington Oval, Zimbabwe's bowlers went even better, allowing England to just cross the 200 mark to get that 207 in 50 overs, again much too few to be a winning score.

I, inadvertently, asked Zimbabwe's captain, Andy Flower, remembering some of my past association with county cricket with Lancashire County Cricket Club, if Zimbabwe were "strangling the opposition out." I really did not mean that as a pun, as that was a term used when non-fancied bowlers would get wickets in county games while those fancied ones had failed to do so. Andy Flower was quick to jump on the pun, though, noting that; "Yes, the Strangs have done us proud!!"

Of course, he was referring to the Strang Brothers, medium pacer Brian and leg spinner Paul, part of Zimbabwe's bowling arsenal. These two have mesmerized and restricted both the West Indies and England in the initial matches and it could be said that they have contributed as much as, if not more, that all of the Zimbabwean bowlers.

Paul Strang did not play against the West Indies, but had the great figures of 10-0-36-3 against England. Brian Strang played in the first two games against both the West Indies and England and returned figures of 10-0-32-2 and 10-1-39-1 respectively. Less than 4.00 runs per over for both bowlers; excellent stuff. So much for "second string" bowling.

Yes, Zimbabwe are definitely playing to their full potential, while the other two teams, much more accomplished in their history, have been struggling with the "slowness" of the Zimbabwean bowlers. Strangely, the Zimbabweans seem to be dealing rather well with the "faster" West Indian and English bowlers, scoring the required totals in their first two games with relative ease. 233-4 (over 46) and 210-5 (over 49), suggest that the Zimbabweans are up with their game, batting and especially bowling.

Talk about playing to their strengths, Zimbabwe are doing that well. If either England and/or the West Indies are to feature in the final on July 22, both of these teams will have to, try to do what Match Referee Madugalle has suggested does not always happen well. England and the West Indies will have to not only play to their own potential and "character", but maybe they will have to copy Zimbabwe's attitude and copy their tactics too.