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December 2, 1999
After his sterling efforts against Sri Lanka, we may well refer to Andy Flower as the Steve Waugh of Zimbabwean cricket. He has batted in exactly the way we would expect of the Australian captain, fighting it out through constant application and determination from his position in the middle order. Besides being captain for the present, he also has the additional burden of wicket-keeping, and was incredibly right in the middle of the action for all but two or three hours of the Second Test.
He has now scored a century and two fifties in four innings against the tourists, and in the other innings he was not out. Although struggling along with the rest of the Zimbabwean batsmen this season after being plunged into Test matches against the world's two strongest teams without any first-class match preparation, he was the first to recover his true form and has led his team from the front with the bat. And after a rather difficult time behind the stumps in Bulawayo, he kept wicket well throughout.
Like Waugh, Andy has batted right in the middle order, but with more justification, as he can scarcely be expected to bat in the first four after keeping wicket throughout the opposition's innings. Not that this has often stopped him from having to bat quite early on this season. He has not had as much support from the lower order as Waugh usually gets, and would probably have got a century in the Bulawayo Test had he not had to concern himself with the problem of running out of partners. He might well have scored a century in both innings in Harare had his first innings not been cut short by a harsh umpiring decision, given out lbw playing a stroke at a ball that nevertheless hit him outside the line of the off stump.
It was perhaps a diplomatic choice of Tillakaratne Dilshan as Man of the Match for his unbeaten 160. Andy played two superb innings under much greater pressure than Dilshan had to contend with; Dilshan failed to score in his second innings, although he was given out to an umpiring error, and he was involved in the unpleasant running out of Murray Goodwin. Nevertheless Dilshan did show superb temperament and concentration in his century, hanging on though beaten on a number of occasions and selecting his strokes wisely even when tied down. In most matches he would probably not have had a rival for the honour.
The last two days of the Test saw Zimbabwe play the best cricket they have shown since beating South Africa in the World Cup. On the fourth day they lost only three wickets, which included that of Goodwin, and both he and Guy Whittall had shown tremendous fight in the company of their captain. On the final day, when Sri Lanka needed only 35 to win, they came out full of fight and determination and made Sri Lanka fight hard to secure their victory, taking four wickets on the way.
Earlier, in the first innings, Grant Flower had stuck around gallantly until after lunch until getting out with the hard work done, and Alistair Campbell had shared the best partnership of the innings with Andy, before unfortunately getting out to another soft dismissal, lbw hitting across the line. So five of Zimbabwe's top batsmen did at least make valuable contributions, and hopefully they can carry this into the Third Test.
The most startling memory of the Test, though, will always be the sensational hat-trick by Nuwan Zoysa in the second over of the match. Never before has a bowler taken a hat-trick so early in a Test match, or with his first three balls. Once again Zimbabwe lost the toss and were put in to bat, although this time with the pitch less lively than it had been against South Africa in particular and with the Sri Lankan pace attack being much less dangerous, it was not expected to be such a problem. In fact, there was just enough movement in the pitch for the first hour to beat the bat, and this was to prove crucial.
Zoysa bowled three fine deliveries, and umpire Steve Bucknor was called on to give a decision with each: Trevor Gripper lbw unwisely padding up, Goodwin caught at the wicket and Neil Johnson lbw. There were few, if any, complaints about these decisions, even with Johnson playing forward. Unfortunately Sri Lanka's first ever Test hat-trick has passed by unrecorded, as the television service, with brilliant timing, broke down in the middle of it. Bucknor did appear to blot his record, though, at the tail end of the Zimbabwean second innings, when he stuck out Gary Brent, like Andy Flower first time round given lbw when appearing to play a stroke at a ball that hit him outside the line of off stump, and Henry Olonga, who could hardly have played further forward when hit on the front pad, making one wonder how any umpire could be certain.
It is interesting, although futile, to conjecture as to what might have happened had Gavin Rennie been playing instead of Gripper. Rennie was surely unlucky to be dropped after suffering a dubious decision and a very good ball in Bulawayo. History turns on very small hinges, and Zoysa's first ball to a left-handed Rennie rather than a right-handed Goodwin would surely have been different. Even if the batsman had been dismissed, the bowler would have had to change his lie and made other adjustments when Goodwin came in, which made it unlikely that this ball would have been the same either . . . If Grant Flower and Rennie had seen through that first hour the whole course of the match might have been different. But of course this conjecture can go on for ever; one change anywhere down the line inevitably has its effect on everything that follows, and we might have found Andy Flower dismissed cheaply by a ball he was not in fact destined to receive . . .
Perhaps one day Test matches will be replayed by computer, altering crucial events, but cricket is such a game that endless permutations are possible if even one ball is different - and the earlier in the match the more difference it could make.
After the carnage caused by that hat-trick, Zimbabwe could not wish for two better players than the Flowers to fight their way back. Grant is still not in good form, but he fought his way beyond lunch, and Andy was immovable until that fatal umpiring decision. It was good to see Campbell playing well, but just so disappointing that he threw his wicket away again. Then Whittall, with only a singe to his credit, attempted to hit Muralitharan out of the ground and was comprehensively bowled - hardly a percentage shot in that situation. Had these two not given their wickets away Zimbabwe might well have reached 300.
The Sri Lankan bowling is rather like the present Zimbabwean attack - steady and industrious rather than fearsome and penetrative. Their one great bowler is Muralitharan, but there have been suggestions from the Sri Lankan press that he seems at present to have lost his competitive edge. Most Zimbabwean batsmen have found him very difficult to play but have fought very hard and well to counter him.
The Sri Lankan batting is good quality, but the Zimbabwean bowlers have not allowed them to run rampant. They have not yet come off together; in Bulawayo the scoring was dominated by Atapattu, and in Harare by Dilshan, backed by Jayawardene. The others did not make major contributions. In the Third Test, will Zimbabwe be able to prevent any such high scores, or will the Sri Lankan batsmen get their act together as a team? The answer could well decide the result of the Test.
Apart from bowling too short at times on a slow pitch to batsmen adept at the pull, the Zimbabwean bowlers again did a fine job, with Strang as usual the most economical and difficult to play. It would no doubt have helped if Andrew Whittall had been included as a spinner, but the loss of Johnson's bowling until January at least has altered the balance of the side. Sri Lankans are superb players of spin bowling, and with conditions not really favourable to spinners it would probably not have made much difference. Adam Huckle would have been another story, but he has still shown no willingness to return to international cricket, despite efforts to persuade him to play for his country in its hour of need.
At the close on the third day Zimbabwe were three wickets down in their second innings and still more than 200 runs behind, and on recent form probably most people expected that Zimbabwe would go the way of England and Pakistan, and crash to an innings defeat without too much of a fight. But Andy Flower felt differently, as did Goodwin and Whittall. The fourth day, when these three battled it out in the ditches in what was realistically a hopeless cause, may prove to be the turning point in Zimbabwe's fortunes. It was a magnificent effort.
The Sri Lankans sadly lost a lot of friends that afternoon. Frustrated at their inability to part Flower and Goodwin, their appeals became increasingly hysterical, as did their behaviour as the umpires resisted the pressure. Both umpires at different times spoke to the fielding side about their behaviour. In the end the Sri Lankans resorted to very dubious tactics to get that wicket.
Goodwin played the last ball of an over back to the bowler, who did not feel like bending his back to pick it up, so he kicked it back towards the slips. Goodwin light-heartedly pretended to aim a kick at it, and then, forgetting to wait until the umpire had called "Over," wandered down the pitch to do some gardening or talk to his partner. Dilshan in the slips, seeing he was out of his crease, threw the stumps down, and the Sri Lankans appealed.
The fact that umpire Bucknor needed to call for the third umpire suggests he had subconsciously taken the ball to be dead and was not looking. Goodwin was clearly out of his crease and clearly dismissed according to the laws of the game. But was it in the spirit of the game? Is this the sort of thing we want to see in Test matches? Andy Flower at the time, clearly unhappy at the method of dismissal, quietly appealed to Jayasuriya's sense of sportsmanship but found him quite unwilling to listen.
At the tea interval match referee Jackie Hendriks, the fine West Indian wicket-keeper of the sixties, spoke to the Sri Lankan team, and very effectively too, as their behaviour for the rest of the day was beyond reproach. It is not known whether he said anything about the Goodwin dismissal, but it was clearly too late to restore him.
Campbell did not last long, but Whittall batted superbly. He is quite unpredictable with bat or ball; one never knows what to expect, but on this occasion he remained fully focused and did not put a foot wrong. He stayed unbeaten to the end, having seen Zimbabwe avoid the innings defeat along with Flower.
Zimbabwe came out ready to give all they had as Sri Lanka chased 35. The result was a foregone conclusion, and one or two Sri Lankan batsmen seemed to play with that attitude, but Zimbabwe regained some self-esteem and respect by getting thoroughly stuck in and taking four wickets before the tourists scrambled home; it would have been five but for a difficult dropped catch.
Has the turning point been reached? The Third Test, beginning on Saturday 4 December, will tell.
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