Sri Lanka v Zimbabwe, The Oval, Pool D September 14, 2004

Heading for the clouds

Roving Reporter by Liam Brickhill at The Oval
Roving Reporter by Liam Brickhill at The Oval

The long walk: Brendan Taylor departs for Zimbabwe © AFP

After an unusually good start had been squandered and Zimbabwe found themselves in the familiar vicinity of a batting collapse, one of the 1000 or so Zimbabwean and Sri Lankan cricket fans who had turned up to this match offered his solution to the young Zimbabweans' batting woes: "What we need is someone to come in and hit some runs when the chips are down."

"The chips are always down," replied his friend cynically, while pulling the large Zimbabwean flag he had wrapped around himself slightly tighter to keep out the cold and drizzle, as one of a chain of late-summer rain-clouds swept over The Oval. Such a fashion accessory is quickly becoming a must for anyone planning on braving the unpredictable elements and attending a Champions Trophy game.

In the event, Elton Chigumbura and Prosper Utseya did just what was needed of them, and although their efforts were in vain, the spectators were treated to the first encounter of the tournament between a minnow and a powerhouse that was actually a decent contest.

The main group of supporters of both sides congregated within sprinting distance of cover, as the rain came and went, although it only once hung around long enough to force the players off the field. Even in a crowd as small as this, with so many Southern Africans opting for an easier expat life in England, there were several surprised greetings between old friends as the Zimbabwean contingent started to swell.

After Zimbabwe had set the Sri Lanks 192 - more than expected, but less than fully challenging - the weather-beaten fans trudged off in search of lunch, both liquid and solid. On offer was the usual overpriced beer and fast food. Many opted for the chicken burgers, which promised much, but upon further inspection revealed little more than a hint of sparrow-sized fillet hiding apologetically in the middle of a dry bun.

When Sri Lanka made their reply, Chigumbura was at it again with the ball, adding three wickets to his fifty and rightfully earning the Man of the Match award for his allround performance. If there was anything at all to cheer about, the Zimbabwean supporters did, and they ended up out-shouting the much larger but more widely scattered Sri Lankan contingent. It was all good-natured stuff: the Zimbabweans were only too pleased to congratulate Nuwan Zoysa on his completion of a fine spell, as well as offer several gentle reminders of his lapses on the field.

On the field, Zimbabwe never stopped trying, and despite the apparent ineffectiveness of the bowling, Sri Lanka never managed a partnership of more than 45. Upul Chandana and Tillekaratne Dilshan eventually cantered home with more than six overs to spare, but the star-studded line-up that came before them made heavy weather of such a small total.

As the players left the field, the last of the cloud moved away, and The Oval was finally bathed in sunshine at last. The spectators today got more than they expected, and with the heartening display by the Zimbabweans, no-one whinged about the weather. For the first time in this tournament, a match between the minnows and the big guns was worth the price of a ticket.

Liam Brickhill is editorial assistant of Wisden Cricinfo.