Wisden Cricketer / Features

Eyewitness - Zimbabwe v England, Bulawayo, December 1996

Not in their widest dreams

England's first senior tour to Zimbabwe was fractious from the start

Nick Hoult

December 6, 2004

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England's first senior tour to Zimbabwe was fractious from the start. The England management had fallen out with the players almost as soon as they touched down in Harare and the tourists' approach to the trip was regarded as at best aloof and at worst downright rude

England had been the only country to vote against Zimbabwe gaining full Test status and this slight, as well as former colonial rule, made for an intriguing sub-plot to the first Test at Bulawayo. It lived up to the occasion ...



Robert Croft dimisses Andy Waller at Bulawayo © Getty Images
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Robert Croft They really fancied turning us over. We were a relatively young side that had been thrown together and they had been playing a lot of international cricket. In some ways we underestimated them and did not give them the credit they deserved.

Andy Flower We were really up for it. There had been a big build-up to the match. Alistair Campbell [the Zimbabwe captain] had told the press England had a superiority complex. They had lost a couple of warm-up games and were under a lot of pressure from the media to win.

Martin Johnson (Daily Telegraph): Zimbabwe scarcely need motivating against the only country who voted against their application for Test status. To be described as not good enough is one thing, but to be described as not good enough by England was insulting.

David Lloyd (England coach): We had gone on a training camp to La Manga in Portugal and worked hard on acclimatising to the altitude. It was the first Test against England since independence and that caught us a bit cold. It was an emotional time for the people of Zimbabwe, especially those that felt short-changed by the British government. There was no way we underestimated Zimbabwe.

Dominic Cork pulled out of the trip due to personal reasons and relations between the management and players broke down when it was ruled that wives and girlfriends would not be allowed on the tour.

DL It was not a great atmosphere between us. It was a massive mistake not to let the partners come out and we acknowledged we were wrong. I didn't think it mattered at the time but looking back I think that made a big difference.

RC There were a few of us who were pretty unhappy about that. It was a management decision. We were away for 14 weeks and during the first Test we had a meeting about whether or not to go home for a week.

AF We knew they were not happy. We had heard they were moaning to the press about our country, about our food and the hotels. We thought they were a bunch of whingers.

Mike Atherton passed Peter May's record of 35 consecutive appearances as England captain but was under intense pressure to win in Zimbabwe. He was not helped when England got off to a slow start with Zimbabwe making 376 thanks largely to Andy Flower's hundred.

AF Dave Houghton had done a lot of homework on the English bowlers. That played a big part in our early success.

RC It was only my second Test and I wanted to do well. The pitch turned quite a bit and we were able to make a couple of breakthroughs at good times. Throughout my career I enjoyed bowling away from home and in partnership with Phil Tufnell.

Hundreds by Nasser Hussain and John Crawley gave England a small first-innings lead. Zimbabwe made 234 in their second innings to set England 205 to win in 37 overs.

DL We had them in a lot of trouble at 178 for 7 in their second innings and should have wrapped it up. We had been looking to get about 500 in our first innings but fell about 100 short of what we needed to be comfortable.



Nick Knight lofts his last-over six © Getty Images
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Nick Knight had already cemented his place in England's one-day side. Now he had a chance to make his name in Tests.

Nick Knight We felt we had a decent chance. We made good progress and I felt we were in a position to win but I got bogged down against Paul Strang.

DL I wrote the following in my diary: there is no question we will get those runs. We needed to get them on the back foot early. It would be like a Sunday League match. At tea we were 36 for 1 and Nasser Hussain took over in the dressing room. He said, "If we score 80 in the next 17 overs with this field and without losing wickets, then we will have nine wickets left to score 90 in the last 15 overs." We thought that there would be only one winner.

England followed Hussain's plan. They needed 87 off the final 15 overs with nine wickets in hand. But then it changed as Zimbabwe sensed defeat looming.

DL We lost a couple of wickets and they began to bowl wider and wider. Heath Streak was doing a professional job for his side but it left a bitter taste in the mouth.

NK I tried to combat the wides by running down the pitch to narrow the angle. It was the only thing I could do.

AF It was the right thing to do but it wouldn't be allowed to happen now. We were never going to bowl England out, so we had to make sure they couldn't get the runs.

The umpires called only three wides and England went into the final over needing 11 to win. Knight hit the third ball for six.



A disconsolate Nick Knight trudges off after being run out © Getty Images
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NK After the six I thought we could do it. We needed three off the last ball and I thought I had hit it for four and won the match. But it slowed up in the outfield, we scrambled through for two and I was run out going for a crazy third. But we had to put pressure on them.

For the first time ever a drawn Test had finished with the scores level.

AF It got quite niggly out there. It was not unpleasant but there were words exchanged.

RC There was no mixing between the two sides. We really didn't get on. They bowled wide and as a professional sportsman you have to do what you can to get the right result for your side.

Lloyd was livid. Renowned for his straight talking and emotional outbursts, he made his feelings known at the end of the match. His claim that "we flippin' murdered 'em" was a headline writer's dream.

DL I did an interview with the BBC in which I said I thought I'd said something to the press about murdering them and that it could come back in my face. I got a lot of criticism for it. But I come from Manchester and it's a phrase we use all the time. I sensed they were quite offended by it but that was not my intention. I didn't want to upset anyone. It was just me.

AF We just thought it was quite funny as it was so obviously not true. It reflected the pressure he was under. It was a fair result and it was a great game of cricket.

Lloyd was reprimanded by Lord MacLaurin, the new ECB chairman, who flew to Zimbabwe to administer the ticking-off.

DL One man wrote to the Daily Telegraph to complain about my loutish behaviour. People have made comparisons between my `murdered 'em' comment and Tony Greig's `grovel'. Sometimes you say things you regret and you just have to live with the consequences.

MJ Had England not batted so bafflingly slowly on Saturday or bowled so ordinarily on the Sunday they would have been celebrating a not very famous victory. As Lloyd said: "We murdered them." He probably believes in Father Christmas too.

Perhaps he did. After Christmas England travelled to New Zealand where they won their first series abroad since 1991-92.

This article was first published in the December issue of The Wisden Cricketer.
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