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At Lord's, May 22, 23, 24. England won by an innings and 92 runs. Toss: Zimbabwe. Test debuts: J. M. Anderson, A. McGrath; S. M. Ervine.
Zimbabwe arrived at Lord's with one player likely to have made the England side (Streak), and seven successive Test defeats behind them. They left having lost 19 wickets in a day - and the match inside three.
England's crushing win - by an innings and 92 runs - was competent rather than compelling: the exception was a dazzling spell on the third afternoon, when Zimbabwe's first innings crumbled and James Anderson sent stumps cartwheeling to become the first England bowler since Dominic Cork in 1995 to take a five-for on debut. But the true value of any performance was hard to judge: by the end, wickets and runs against Zimbabwe were beginning to look like a devalued currency.
Despite a pitch showing some fresh shoots, England excluded a seamer - James Kirtley - from their eleven, and included a spinner, Giles. After showing hints of the Midas touch in one-day matches over the winter, Anderson was a certainty to replace the injured Andrew Caddick. But the choice of the Yorkshire captain, Anthony McGrath, was a bolt from the blue. His selection maintained Duncan Fletcher's reputation for picking batsmen in spite rather than because of their career average. McGrath's was under 30.
From the start, the match never felt like the opening Test of a summer. The usual buzz of anticipation was replaced by the chatter of 6,000 schoolkids let in free to fill seats. And the first-morning gossip was not about cricket, but political protest. The anti-Mugabe campaigner Peter Tatchell had threatened to deliver "chaos and mayhem". Instead there were around 100 demonstrators outside the Grace Gates ("Tim Lamb is Mugabe's Lord Haw-Haw" said one placard), two dignified pitch-invaders and a doubledecker bus full of cheerful-looking Zimbabwean exiles. The Zimbabwe question, the great saga of England's winter, slowly faded from public view.
Like the protest, the first day was underwhelming. Early-morning rain and a damp outfield delayed the start until just after noon, and provided ideal conditions for Zimbabwe's seamers when Streak chose to bowl. Streak himself got the ball to swing and jag; Vaughan fenced his way to a painful 42-ball eight; and for one deceptive hour England were not on top. But Zimbabwe bowled too wide. It might have been different had Butcher not survived a convincing shout for leg-before from Hondo on ten, and a chance at slip on 36. Unruffled by these escapes, neat in defence and punchy on the counter-attack, he changed the tone of the innings.
On the second day Zimbabwe paid for their ndiscipline on the first. The pitch eased, Butcher went on to 137, full of cuts and drives as crisp as a pippin, and the last four wickets added a spirit-sapping 130. McGrath marked his debut with a composed 69, helping England to 472, well above par in the conditions.
The third day was one of the longest in Test history (seven hours 39 minutes), and 19 wickets fell, but it was a hollow sort of epic. Zimbabwe simply rolled over. Against an attack that provided too much width, they contrived to stagger to 120 for five by lunch, Ebrahim managing a frisky 68 which combined crunching drives and streaky edges. Hoggard seemed to have recovered some of the swing and self-belief that had leached away during a winter in Australia, but after lunch he was dramatically upstaged by Anderson, who bowled less well but with more spectacular results.
Anderson's debut was enigmatic. He began his Test career by conceding 17 runs off his first over, but came back with a maiden, followed by a wicket maiden. On the third morning he looked as threatening as a pet moggy; in the afternoon he smashed the stumps of Streak and Friend with successive full-pitched balls that slanted in towards middle and hit off, then finished by removing Blignaut and Hondo: the last four wickets in 14 balls. His nervous smile looked like that of an apprentice magician, delighted with the result but unsure exactly how he'd managed it.
After the swift end to their first innings, Zimbabwe followed on 325 behind. Vermeulen blasted 61 at the top of the order and Friend 43 at the bottom, both enjoying the liberty that comes with having nothing to lose. But in the best batting conditions of the match nine wickets fell in 42 overs, as England claimed the extra half-hour. Butcher and McGrath took seven wickets between them with swinging dobbers, and in the process rubbed some of the sheen off Anderson's achievements. This was a little too easy.
Man of the Match: M. A. Butcher. Attendance: 60,938; receipts £926,715.
Close of play: First day, England 184-3 (Butcher 52, Key 11);
Second day, Zimbabwe 48-1 (Ebrahim 40, Carlisle 4).