Flintoff - a weighty performance for England
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Zimbabwe bubble of confidence pricked
Old Trafford, close of play: Zimbabwe (114 off 38.3 overs) lost to England (115 for two off 20.3 overs) by eight wickets.
Just after 7.30, when on a normal summer's day the light would still have been perfectly adequate for play without the need for floodlights, England completed their job of rolling a spineless Zimbabwean side over on to its back and put themselves well on track for a place in the final at Lord's. On past record it seemed only a brief matter of time before Zimbabwe's bubble burst, and three successive victories was their limit before normal service was resumed and lack of genuine self-belief overwhelmed them again.
Change bowlers crack Zimbabwe\resolve
Not that England merely had to turn up to achieve a victory. Zimbabwe began not at all badly with the bat, but Gough and Caddick kept the situation under control without looking really dangerous on a fine batting pitch. The difference was made by the second-string attack that had let England down so badly in the first match between the two sides; Mullally and Ealham bowled superbly and the Zimbabwe batting cracked, only to shatter completely when the third-string came on.
Mullally also magnificent
Andy Flintoff, promoted to number three, played a superb innings of 42 off 45 balls and won the Man of the Match award; I would have selected Mullally who bowled a magnificent spell. Flintoff, like Zimbabwe in their first three NatWest matches, showed quite clearly what talent he possesses at his best. But he too needs to add consistency to his skill.
Stewart's modest Streak continues
All the English batsmen needed to do was to play a waiting game and pick off the bad balls, and this is what Trescothick and Stewart did at first against the persevering but not dangerous bowling of Johnson and Bryan Strang. Streak came on for Johnson in the seventh over and soon struck, having Stewart trapped lbw for 12 with the score of 28 - another good start but poor finish by the England captain.
Trescothick and Flintoff, given an opportunity up the order, kept the runs coming, although Hick had a narrow escape when a mistimed lob into the covers just evaded the field. Trescothick stepped back when Whittall came on to bowl and hit him high over long-off for six. Then another off-driven boundary brought up the fifty in the 13th over; it was followed by a pull to the boundary as England really stepped up their scoring rate.
Then Heath is hammered
When Streak changed ends, though, he immediately dismissed Trescothick (29), hitting across the line to be given out lbw; Zimbabwe 57 for two. Flintoff, determined to show his detractors, mastered Streak, hitting him for two powerful off-side fours. When Paul Strang came on, he flicked him over long-on for six, a stroke he repeated in Strang's next over. Shortly afterwards the hundred came up in the 20th over.
A straight six by Hick off Strang levelled the scores before a single into the covers brought the crowd running on to the field; Flintoff was unbeaten with 42 and Hick with 23, and there were nearly 30 overs to spare. England will now hope to be on their way to the final, but the match against West Indies at Chester-le-Street on Saturday would be crucial.
If the weather allows a result, the two teams will either be neck-and-neck again, the best result from the point of view of a neutral hoping for an exciting tournament, or else West Indies will be as good as out of it.
Zimbabwe heading for crucial contest
For Zimbabwe, their third match against West Indies on Sunday, also at Chester-le-Street, will be crucial. They should have proven beyond all doubt now that their failures lie primarily in their heads. They have a choice: they can get their heads right and start playing winning cricket again, or they can continue to curl up when the pressure is on. If they do the former, they have already shown that they will be a force in world cricket.