June 5, 2000

England v Zimbabwe, Second Test, Day 5

A major share of the honours had gone the way of Zimbabwe, the minnows of Test cricket when stumps were drawn on their first ever Test series in England.

A match which had been marred by the wet weather and was, as a consequence, heading towards a dull draw on what was going to be a meaningless final day, was somewhat unexpectedly brought to life by the enterprising tourists.

Still as many as 89 runs behind, on the overnight score of 4 for 285, Andy Flower the Zimbabwe captain had put the onus on England by declaring his first innings and as such challenging England to make a game of it. The adventurous move not only livened things up but, indeed, for the first time in this series shifted the balance of play in Zimbabwe's direction.

This was clearly so during the morning period and for most of the second session. Overcast conditions which prevailed throughout the day, just as it's been the case for the duration of this entire Test. The bowlers made fine use of the conditions and the jitters in the England batting rapidly set in.

It was quite the reverse of the situation in the first Test at Lord's. There, if Zimbabwe had begun poorly, England's second innings here had got off to a astonishingly worse start. It was brought about by Zimbabwe's 19-year-old debutant pace bowler Mluleki Nkala who claimed the first two wickets with the total on six and put England in a position from which they never made a proper recovery.

Nkala had match figures of 5 for 104 and that is a notable effort in a first Test. With the potential that he has shown, he must be regarded as an excellent prospect for his country. The coaching and advice that he has had could not have come from better quarters, having spent time in the Australian coaching academy with Denis Lillee and spent time with Jeff Thomson and Carl Rackemann.

Half the England side was dismissed for 73 until Graeme Hick with 30 and England's man of the series Michael Atherton with 34 were able to make reasonable contributions. Credit must be given to Zimbabwe's bowlers who did their part so well after the batsmen, led by man-of-the-match Murray Goodwin's memorable innings yesterday had salvaged Zimbabwe's pride.

A pleasing aspect for the tourists was that all the bowlers performed well, sharing the wickets almost evenly and they were superbly supported in the field. Unlike the previous Test, the catching as well as the ground fielding had shown a marked improvement.

For England this one-nil series victory does not give too many reasons to get the champagne out. Going on their performance here, the forthcoming series against West Indies seems more like a looming threat rather than one to look forward to as it appeared after the efficiency shown at Lord's.

There was no determination shown today in the batting which lacked discipline. Nasser Hussain, the England captain said:" We were below par. What surprised us was how much they made of that wicket. They swung it around so much."

But this is precisely why England should have shown solid application. There was a fear after the win in the first Test that complacency would creep in and there was certainly evidence ot it here. It wasn't just in the batting but the bowling yesterday, when Goodwin in particular and Neil Johnson and Andy Flower were piling on the runs, had lost length and direction.

While England go into the series next week on the back of a disappointing performance, they will do well to bear in mind that West Indies have, only last week, defeated Pakistan in a thrilling series. It will have put them in an excellent frame of mind.