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West Indies clinch 27-run victory in Coca-Cola Cup opener

A good all-round performance by West Indies brought them a 27-run victory over a demoralized but defiant Zimbabwe team at Harare Sports Club in the opening match of the triangular tournament also involving India. After compiling 266 for five wickets, they restricted Zimbabwe to 239 for nine.

The shock news for West Indies was the withdrawal of Brian Lara from the tour, due to a long-term hamstring injury. For Zimbabwe, it was the resignation of Heath Streak as captain, following Andy Flower's withdrawal through injury. No official reasons have been given yet for Streak's resignation, but it is generally believed that the players are aggrieved at on-going selection policies. Grant Flower took over as captain for this match at short notice, as vice-captain Guy Whittall refused to take over in the circumstances.

Two sides thus faced each other, both in turmoil. Zimbabwe won the toss and put West Indies in on a good-looking pitch, no doubt hoping for early life. For the first time in 224 successive international matches, Zimbabwe took the field without Andy Flower.

Chris Gayle made the early running for West Indies, hitting Andy Blignaut, who now had his hair dyed in the colours of the national flag, for two fine boundaries through the covers in his third over. Daren Ganga hit a cover boundary in Streak's next over as Zimbabwe's bowlers again failed to control the white ball or extract much help from the pitch. Gayle on 15 was dropped at second slip, a difficult chance, off Blignaut.

The fifty came up in the 13th over and the hundred in the 22nd, with the batsmen enjoying several slices of good fortune but gradually looking more impressive as Zimbabwe's change bowlers proved quite innocuous. Grant Flower came on himself to put a brake on the scoring, but several uncharacteristic misfields did not help their cause. The pair added 113 before Gayle (53), in the 25th over, checked a big hit off Brian Murphy to be caught by long-on running in.

Wavell Hinds ran superbly between wickets with Ganga as West Indies hammered home their advantage. Ganga recorded 66 off 98 balls before Tatenda Taibu claimed his first victim in full international cricket, stumping him smartly off Murphy, and shortly afterwards Hinds (37) unilaterally attempted an impossible single to be run out. But at 180 for three in the 38th over, West Indies were well placed.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Carl Hooper made merry as Mluleki Nkala and Travis Friend again failed to measure up with the ball, but Streak was better and had Hooper (29) brilliantly caught at wide long-on by Flower. Chanderpaul, not general thought of as a one-day batsman, played with fine judgement for his 51 before holing out at deepish mid-off off Blignaut's slower ball, and West Indies finished with 266 for five. With morale obviously low in the Zimbabwe camp, the match appeared to belong to the tourists. One bright spot was the fine wicket-keeping of Tatenda Taibu on his debut.

Reon King and Cameron Cuffy bowled with hostility and purpose, but the Zimbabwean openers faced them with determination until Dion Ebrahim (11) edged King for wicket-keeper Ridley Jacobs to take a remarkable high catch with the webbing of his gloves, causing some questions to be asked about the legality of such gloves under the new code of laws.

Stuart Carlisle, fresh from his match-winning innings in the Second Test against India, was soon peppering the off-side field with powerful drives, King and Mervyn Dillon both proving expensive. Then, on 17, he was dismissed by a brilliant catch at short extra cover by Hooper.

This was virtually the end of Zimbabwe's challenge, as Alistair Campbell and Grant Flower became bogged down, unable either to rotate the strike or reach the boundary. They later opened up, but just as the partnership was developing Flower was caught at the wicket for 29; Zimbabwe were 99 for three in the 27th over.

Blignaut was sent in to raise the run rate, and did so, although not to the now necessary rate of eight an over, before being run out for 25, just after Campbell reached his fifty. Whittall improvised well, and was badly dropped at long leg, but 97 were needed off the final ten overs. Whittall (32) fell at deep midwicket, while Campbell, never fluent, holed out to long-off for 68.

Streak and Friend (16 each) and last man Murphy (15 not out off 8 balls) did their best to ensure that Zimbabwe went down with all guns blazing. Dillon took three for 49 and Samuels, at the death, three for 28.