England 1 Zimbabwe 0

The Zimbabweans in England, 2000

Stephen Brenkley

All the elements were in place for Zimbabwe's first full tour of England to end in tears and acrimony. Civil disorder at home was at its zenith, and several players' immediate families, living on isolated farms, were in danger. The long-standing pay dispute between the team and the Zimbabwe Cricket Union festered. When they were humiliated by England in the First Test, it seemed likely that disarray and defeat would accompany the rest of the visit. In the event, Zimbabwe doggedly regrouped and demonstrated again that they are usually greater than the sum of their parts. If the tour did not culminate in resounding triumph, it was testimony to the Zimbabweans' spirit that they gave England a fright in the Second Test of the two-match series and then reached the final of the triangular one-day tournament, having embarrassed both the hosts and West Indies along the way.

Zimbabwe had been waiting a long time for this trip. Eight years had passed since their elevation to Test status, opposed at the time by England, who had subsequently been reluctant to invite them to tour. Thus, Zimbabwe arrived bearing well-concealed grievances, and with points to make. Perhaps it was this, allied to other distractions, which led to their crash at Lord's in mid-May, the earliest Test played in an English summer. Almost to a man, they froze, and the outcome was in little doubt from the first morning when they lost the toss and found themselves at eight for three in the first half-hour of the match. So much for the theory that overseas visitors save their best for Lord's.

Somehow, they put it behind them. The news from Zimbabwe was invariably grim. Farms were being occupied daily as the government insisted that land must be redistributed. The players declared that it was their duty to give those at home something to cheer, although they may have excluded their administrators from such thoughts. They had been frustrated and embittered at the ZCU's refusal to offer more money. The captain, Andy Flower, was one of the more vociferous proponents of a better deal for his team and was unafraid to voice an opinion. The players did not seek riches, but could not understand why they should be worse off than before they turned professional. Flower's articulate stance was eventually to cost him his job. While giving the captaincy his all, he might not have been too unhappy to shed the responsibility. His other roles as front-line batsman and wicket-keeper already presented him with a full plate. During the Lord's Test his wicket-keeping was constantly poor, presumably because he had too much else to think about.

Flower usually led the side positively, and if Zimbabwe's lack of flair precluded risks, his declaration at Trent Bridge in the Second Test confirmed a sense of adventure. There was a brief period, alarming to English eyes, when they might have sneaked victory. They came to command respect and Murray Goodwin's century revealed him as a batsman of high class.

Goodwin and Neil Johnson, two of the few players in the squad who rose above the rank of journeyman, added to Zimbabwe's travails by announcingtheir retirement from Test cricket. Both were born in Zimbabwe and had moved elsewhere with their families before returning to establish international careers. Goodwin went back to Australia, Johnson set up home again in South Africa. However, suggestions that Goodwin might have been persuaded to stay, had the right offer been forthcoming, again reflected badly on the ZCU. Life without both would inevitably expose shortcomings in the upper order. Neither Flower, a proven international batsman, nor his brother, Grant, made the runs that might have been expected of them, and Alistair Campbell's Test form seemed to be in a permanent rut. For the peripheral players, coping with English pitches early in the season was always likely to be a struggle.

Heath Streak, the vice-captain who was to succeed Andy Flower as skipper, was easily the best bowler. He struggled with fitness, but managed both Tests. His movement and deceptive pace lent them a cutting edge, and without his six wickets in England's only innings at Lord's their plight might have been even sorrier. Streak was not, however, the leading first-class wicket-taker on the tour. That honour (and fourth place in the first-class bowling averages) belonged to Pommie Mbangwa, said to lack pace and penetration but whose ability to swing the ball brought him ten wickets against Yorkshire, and 30 in all. Generally, though, Streak needed more support. The prolonged absence of Henry Olonga, whose troublesome ankle eventually ended his tour, deprived the squad not only of extra speed, but of charisma. Olonga is one of those players who has a tendency to make things happen.

If the majority of the squad were workmanlike players and recognised it, there were signs that the further development of cricket amongst the black population would pay future dividends. Tatenda Taibu, a wicket-keeper/ batsman aged 16 at the beginning of the tour, was selected solely to gain experience. Yet Andy Flower's poor form at Lord's prompted serious consideration of Taibu keeping wicket in the Second Test. If it was wise to keep him waiting, he demonstrated enough with the gloves and his elegant batting to suggest that more will be heard of him. Another teenager to suggest Zimbabwean cricket might have a bright future was Mluleki Nkala. The transition to Test level appeared not to faze him at all, and his controlled in-swing bowling accounted for Nasser Hussain twice in the Nottingham Test.

It was surprising to reflect that Zimbabwe used 19 players in all, because they invariably conveyed the impression of being constant with selection. There was undoubtedly less pressure for places, which was simultaneously a drawback and a benefit; while it might encourage complacency, it also made for a greater sense of community in the dressing-room. Flower and his team made much of being friends as well as team-mates. When they were down, they closed ranks.

Their spirited performance at Trent Bridge set them up for the triangular tournament. Campbell, whose attacking style was better suited to the one-day game, rediscovered his form, and Zimbabwe inflicted an embarrassing defeat on England at The Oval. Three wins against West Indies, whom they had never beaten before, ensured qualification for the final, where they were victims of England's renewed efficiency.

It was not lost on Zimbabwe that one of the chief plotters of their downfall was their countryman, Duncan Fletcher, who had once been their captain but was now England's coach. Perhaps it was inevitable that Graeme Hick, also born and bred in Salisbury but long since qualified for England, should score his first Test century at Lord's against them.

England were unquestionably slicker than they had been for years. Hussain embodied Fletcher's inclusive management style on the field, and for the first time the notion of "Team England" seemed more than simply jargon. Despite the distraction of sorry form with the bat, Hussain's captaincy was generally praised. Less of a success was the choice of Mike Atherton's umpteenth opening partner. The new pair managed a convincing century partnership at Trent Bridge - and Atherton enjoyed himself at Lord's, too - but Mark Ramprakash never seemed comfortable in the role. Critics claimed they were too similar and, after failures in the first two Tests against West Indies, Ramprakash returned to the wilderness. In his place, England wanted someone more aggressively minded, and a left-hander for preference. Nick Knight might have liked the sound of that job description, but, as others had discovered, getting noticed from No. 6 was not easy. He had mixed fortunes, squandering his opportunity as a stand-in opener at Trent Bridge. Alec Stewart and Hick helped themselves to hundreds against an out-of-sorts attack in the First Test, but reflected the prevailing mood and struggled in the next.

Andrew Flintoff's batting continued to exasperate; his bowling was little used, though the speed gun showed he could generate remarkable pace from his powerful frame. Ed Giddins had a dream game at Lord's, but did nothing else to indicate he could be relied on to provide regular support for the established new-ball bowlers. These two, Darren Gough and Andrew Caddick, gave an awesome display of exploiting a greenish spring wicket in the First Test, and typified the most noticeable improvement in England's game: a new-found determination to press home the advantage. The undoubted disappointment was Chris Schofield. Denied a bowl at Lord's, he was ineffectual when given his chance at Trent Bridge. Conditions were not in his favour, but nor was his inability to control line or length. He was one of five players, so rampant in May, no longer in the team by August.

Match reports for

Tour Match: Hampshire v Zimbabweans at Southampton, Apr 27-30, 2000
Scorecard

Tour Match: Kent v Zimbabweans at Canterbury, May 3-5, 2000
Scorecard

Tour Match: Sussex v Zimbabweans at Hastings, May 7, 2000
Scorecard

Tour Match: Essex v Zimbabweans at Chelmsford, May 9, 2000
Scorecard

Tour Match: Essex v Zimbabweans at Chelmsford, May 11-14, 2000
Scorecard

1st Test: England v Zimbabwe at Lord's, May 18-21, 2000
Report | Scorecard

Tour Match: Yorkshire v Zimbabweans at Leeds, May 24-27, 2000
Scorecard

Tour Match: Marylebone Cricket Club v Zimbabweans at Castleford, May 28, 2000
Scorecard

2nd Test: England v Zimbabwe at Nottingham, Jun 1-5, 2000
Report | Scorecard

Ireland v Zimbabweans at Dublin, Jun 7, 2000
Scorecard

Ireland v Zimbabweans at Dublin, Jun 8, 2000
Scorecard

Tour Match: West Indians v Zimbabweans at Arundel, Jun 10-12, 2000
Scorecard

Tour Match: Gloucestershire v Zimbabweans at Gloucester, Jun 16-19, 2000
Scorecard

Tour Match: British Universities v Zimbabweans at Cambridge, Jun 21-23, 2000
Scorecard

Somerset v Zimbabweans at Taunton, Jun 25, 2000
Scorecard

Durham v Zimbabweans at Chester-le-Street, Jun 27, 2000
Scorecard

Nottinghamshire v Zimbabweans at Nottingham, Jun 29, 2000
Scorecard

Northamptonshire v Zimbabweans at Northampton, Jul 1, 2000
Scorecard

Tour Match: New Zealand A v Zimbabweans at Bristol, Jul 3, 2000
Scorecard

1st Match: West Indies v Zimbabwe at Bristol, Jul 6, 2000
Report | Scorecard

2nd Match: England v Zimbabwe at The Oval, Jul 8, 2000
Report | Scorecard

4th Match: West Indies v Zimbabwe at Canterbury, Jul 11, 2000
Report | Scorecard

5th Match: England v Zimbabwe at Manchester, Jul 13, 2000
Report | Scorecard

7th Match: West Indies v Zimbabwe at Chester-le-Street, Jul 16, 2000
Report | Scorecard

8th Match: England v Zimbabwe at Birmingham, Jul 18, 2000
Report | Scorecard

Final: England v Zimbabwe at Lord's, Jul 22, 2000
Report | Scorecard

© John Wisden & Co