June 21, 2000

Cambridge, Close: British Universities 270/7 (109 overs, Porter 90, Murtagh 6)

It was a good day for the Universities, and especially their 20-year-old left-hander Joe Porter of the Oxford Universities, fresh from three consecutive first-class fifties. They had the advantage of winning the toss on a good batting pitch and worked hard against their more experienced opponents, and Porter exemplified their approach in a fine innings that may yet yield him a maiden first-class century.

The weather forecast predicted 'bright and breezy' - the breezy was spot-on and the bright came mainly after the tea interval. The crowd was disappointing, though, not far into three figures.

The very tall Durham University player Will Jefferson, on the Essex staff and estimated to be 6 foot 9 inches tall, almost began the match with a four flicked off his toes, as Heath Streak strayed to leg, but a fine save by Bryan Strang on the long-leg boundary reduced it to three. Jefferson was the more confident of the openers, later hitting Strang through the covers before, as his shorter partner Matthew Banes struggled to make contact, often beaten outside the off stump. Banes finally got one away as he cut Strang over gully for four, and then turned him to fine leg for another boundary. He then looked much more secure and settled down to play a sound innings.

The stand lasted 95 minutes for 62 runs before Jefferson (41) finally skied a ball over mid-off off Paul Strang, and Guy Whittall running back judged the catch well. Jefferson had played some impressive strokes and used his height well to attack the bad ball. James Pyemont of the local university did not last long, scoring four runs before Dirk Viljoen trapped him lbw in his first over - his usual fate, according to the locals - reducing the students to 71 for two. Banes continued to play some attractive strokes, driving confidently now, and was still unbeaten at lunch, when the Universities were 89 for two off 37 overs; Banes 33, Porter 2).

Porter was soon into his stride after the break, driving Viljoen smartly through the covers for four. Both batsmen were soon driving fluently, and Banes reached his fifty with a fine square cut off Neil Johnson for four. Banes seemed to have got over his jabbing and missing outside the off stump - until he suddenly found it again, his aim more accurate this time, and snicked a catch to Alistair Campbell, again deputizing for Andy Flower behind the stumps. He made 51 and the Universities were 117 for three. Captain Richard Dawson did not last long, trapped lbw by Bryan Strang for one; 121 for four.

Zimbabwe were now on the attack, bringing in close fielders and applying the pressure. Mark Hardinges was next to go, snicking Bryan Strang to Johnson at second slip to be out for 3; 125 for five. Strang had taken three wickets for five runs since changing ends.

Runs continued to be at a premium, and some fine Zimbabwean fielding, with Whittall outstanding, made it harder for the students. Gradually, though, as tea approached the batsmen began to score more freely, with Porter unleashing some attractive off-side drives in particular. At the interval the Universities were 162 for five off 77 overs (Porter 37, Foster 12).

After three overs Zimbabwe were able to take the second new ball. They had to handle the purposeful Streak carefully but had little trouble against Bryan Strang, back to his original end. Porter had a false alarm regarding his fifty, thinking he had reached the landmark, only to find that the scoreboard had earlier credited him with a four hit by his partner. Before he reached it genuinely, he lost Foster (16), given out lbw on the front foot by umpire Nigel Llong, making the Universities 182 for six.

It was some minutes later before Porter finally drove Strang beautifully through the covers for four to reach his fifty - for the second time. It had taken him 179 balls. He did not speed up his scoring rate immediately after passing the landmark - as indeed he had not when he first thought he had reached it - but then hit three fours in succession off Gary Brent, handsome drives past mid-off, cover and extra cover. A powerful straight drive two balls later was brilliantly saved by Streak at mid-on, but next ball he pulled another four to midwicket this time. Viljoen was more successful when he replaced Brent, conceding only two straight-driven fours. When Streak returned, Porter cut him over gully for another four.

Umpire Lloyds gave his third lbw decision of the day, against Viljoen for 12, and the Universities were 230 for seven. Streak then proceeded to give Porter a rather torrid time in a brief spell, with several bouncers and very little he could hit, thus preventing him from reaching his century before the close. In the final over, bowled by Paul Strang, he pulled a four and was still in with a chance of a maiden century on the second day, as long as his captain did not declare.