From end of the very first over, it looked like this game was going to live up to the hype. Or rather, the anti-hype. The crowd was as sparse as the gloom was thick. Tinashe Panyangara, an 18-year-old playing in his seventh one-day international, ran in to bowl the first ball of the Zimbabwe innings, and sprayed it so wide that it barely touched the cut strip.

Thirteen balls later, England were licking their lips. Panyangara's first nine deliveries had included seven wides; he'd even had to change to round the wicket in an attempt to bowl a legal ball. He bore it well, and his team-mates gathered round to lend support, but the crowd were already crowing. Oh yes, this was the Zimbabwe we'd heard all about.

So you can only imagine the brooding in the England dressing-room when play was finally called off for the day, with five of their top order out to ordinary shots and, meaning no disrespect, ordinary bowlers. Sure, England are still in a decent enough position to win the game tidily, if Steve Harmison is anything like on form. But in those quiet moments of introspection, you wonder who's going to feel the most annoyed with themselves.

Will it be Marcus Trescothick, who hit 10 off 15 balls, only to bring his fun to an abrupt end with an unwise cut? Michael Vaughan, caught at second slip, having just pulled two consecutive balls for six? Perhaps it's Andrew Flintoff, whose cameo was like a haunting by that other Freddie, the one he has so happily left behind. He hit one of his trademark drives over cover, the field dropped back, and a few balls later he spooned his next attempt to Douglas Hondo - now even better placed to take the catch as he ran back from mid-off.

England seemed well enough equipped to deal with the damp in the air and on the pitch, and to put away the worst of the Zimbabwean deliveries with complete comfort. What they couldn't seem to do was control their own ambition. Andrew Strauss was a case in point, trying to be a shade too clever as he attempted an edge to third man, only for Tatenda Taibu to give a nice demonstration of his springiness as he took it far to his left.

By the halfway stage England were 142 for 4; they had scored with deceptive ease, but only one batsman, Vikram Solanki, had made the most of the situation and he too was out before the early close. Zimbabwe - especially Edward Rainsford and Vusi Sibanda who both claimed their first international wickets - can be pleased with today's efforts. They have given this particular script a re-write.

Emma John is features editor of The Wisden Cricketer.