May 20, 2000

England v Zimbabwe - First Test, Day 3

Although England have dominated this Test from the outset, they have gone on to firmly establish their overwhelming superiority as the match has progressed.

The innocuous bowling that Zimbabwe have had at their disposal has had no effect on England as their batsmen, led by an imperious Alec Stewart and an equally authoritative Graeme Hick have piled on the runs.

The opposition does not possess any strength of note and if that means competitiveness is missing in this Test and in every likelihood from the series; for England it has been a most welcome opportunity of getting into a winning mode. That is a luxury that they have not been particularly familiar with in recent times.

Even though Zimbabwe managed to claim all England wickets, the last six in a space of 39 runs, it mattered little. The feature of the third day's play has been England's batting. Both Hick and Stewart took full advantage of the lack of penetration in the tourists' attack and scored freely in the manner that can only have given them confidence for the rest of their task in this summer of extended Tests and One-Day Internationals.

While Stewart continues so strongly in his role of a specialist batsman (wicket-keeping apart) and remains, at 37, an England stalwart, Hick's position in the side has been far from tenable over the years.

Stewart has shown consistancy both as an opening batsman, having partnered Michael Atherton on no less than 50 occasions, as well as in his position in the middle order. In fact it was only in 1998 (calender year) that he, with 1222 runs (average 43.64), had scored more than any other batsman in the world. He remains in the forefront as an England run-getter.

For Hick it would have been particularly pleasing to reach a century against the country where he was born and bred and a member of their World Cup side as a 17 year old. It is interesting to note that his captain then was the current England coach, Duncan Fletcher.

Despite being an excellent batsman, a prolific scorer, he has had a chequered career so far as an England Test player.

The potential was there from the start and his dominance of the county scene offered promise of great achievements for England. But he has struggled to hold a regular place in the Test side.

A flaw in his technique, in facing the short lifting ball from world class bowlers of genuine speed, has been exploited time and time again and it is his weakness in that area that has been the cause of his irregular England appearance.

His innings today, which brought him his sixth Test hundred and the first at Lord's would no doubt have been of sentimental value to him but more importantly it demoralised the Zimbabwean bowlers. His partnership of 149 with Stewart produced an entertaining exhibition of strokeplay. The two batsmen drove, cut and pulled with excellent timing and style.

For Zimbabwe, Heath Streak's most commendable effort brought him 6 for 87 but with his side in the despairing position of 39 for 5 in the second innings (although they may possibly have been a little unlucky with an umpiring decision) and 293 behind, England should wrap up the match no later than mid-afternoon tomorrow, weather permitting.