Marcus Trescothick: back to form with a fluent 59
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Close England 184 for 3 (Butcher 52*, Key 11*) v Zimbabwe: bad light stopped play
Mark Butcher and Marcus Trescothick contributed a brace of half-centuries to give England the upper hand on a challenging first day against Zimbabwe at Lord's. Despite losing the toss and being asked to bat first in overcast conditions, England made good headway throughout, closing on 184 for 3, with Butcher unbeaten on 52 after a watchful innings in fading light.
It was a disjointed sort of day. The start of play was delayed by an hour and twenty minutes by persistent drizzle, and it ended with a theoretical 21 overs still to be bowled as the conditions closed in once again. In between whiles, Zimbabwe kept themselves within reach with some tantalising swing bowling, backed by enthusiastic fielding and a modicum of good luck. But Trescothick and Butcher ensured that it was England who took the day's honours.
Trescothick's was a cathartic innings. After a winter of self-doubt and technical tinkerings, he was back in all his minimalist glory, standing tall and still at the crease, and frustrating the bowlers into errors with a series of expert leaves and clumping drives. He cracked 10 fours to ease to his first half-century since the Brisbane Test against Australia last November, and it came as some surprise when, midway through the afternoon, he carved Andy Blignaut to Sean Ervine at slip for 59.
Vaughan was also a shadow of his winter self, although that was less encouraging news for England. He played just one of his flourishing pulls - and missed - and it wasn't until the 17th over that he finally unfurled his signature shot, easing Heath Streak to the cover boundary to double his score. But Streak struck back immediately, as Vaughan added to his litany of bizarre dismissals by being bowled off the underside of his thighguard. The ball would have missed leg stump by a good foot, but instead deviated like a legbreak off a nobble of padding to send Vaughan on his way.
If Vaughan's was a fortuitous breakthrough, Streak and Blignaut had earned their wickets. Streak in particular led his inexperienced attack with vigour, bowling 20 overs in the shortened day, swinging the ball at pace and causing all the batsmen several problems. But England's left-hand-right-hand combination, however, played havoc with all the bowlers' lines, and Trescothick and Butcher were the first to cash in.
Butcher's place in this match had seemed in jeopardy at the start of the summer, when he was unable to force his way into Surrey's star-studded line-up. But he scored a century in his most recent England appearance, at Sydney back in January, and his arrival at the crease added some urgency to the innings, as Hondo and Ervine leaked boundaries and no-balls in equal measure. When Streak returned to the attack shortly before tea, Butcher (36) immediately edged his first ball high to the right of second slip, but Ervine couldn't quite cling onto a brave one-handed effort.
Hondo was a reformed character after tea, causing Nasser Hussain several moments of anxiety as England yo-yoed in and out of the pavilion in the fading light. But it was Travis Friend, with a Bothamesque first delivery after kicking his heels for 50 overs, who made the breakthrough. Hussain had already pummelled four fours in his 19, and was attempting to swat a Friend long-hop for a fifth when he top-edged a swirling chance to Hondo at fine leg. That brought Robert Key out to face his nemeses - medium-paced bowling - but he made it to the close without much alarm.
Despite all the fears surrounding the match, the atmosphere was good, both inside the ground and outside the Grace Gates, where about 100 exiles of Robert Mugabe's regime were staging a peaceful demonstration. There were just two interruptions to play, one in each session, and on each occasion the protestors were led peacefully away.