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The happy ending

It took some time, but like a feature-length episode of Scooby Doo , Zimbabwe's bowlers finally stopped ghosting past the bat and were exposed as an all-too-human outfit

It took some time, but like a feature-length episode of Scooby Doo, Zimbabwe's bowlers finally stopped ghosting past the bat and were exposed as an all-too-human outfit. They had never been given much chance of gettin' away with it, even before that meddling kid, Anthony McGrath, got stuck in with a debut half-century, but while the clouds hung low over Lord's, England were forced to toil for their clues.



That meddling kid: Anthony McGrath hooks for four
© Getty Images
Zimbabwean affairs have always been a mystery to England, as one Test victory out of four and that World Cup business will testify. Whether on the field or off, they are damned if they do and damned if they don't, so it's little wonder they took the cautious route to dominance. Still, by the time they had passed 450 for the seventh time in eight home Tests, with Ashley Giles and extras breezing towards their highest Test scores, they could be satisfied with a job well done.
Given the baggage that most of this England side have accumulated over the winter, it was appropriate that the bulk of the work should be done by two men who, for various reasons, were spared the hours of soul-searching and the interminable security briefings ahead of that Harare no-show in February, McGrath and Mark Butcher.
Butcher is fast becoming the forgotten man of the England middle order, which is no bad thing at all - the last man to hold that particular title was Graham Thorpe. Like Thorpe, Butcher has proved a classy and compact strokemaker, with a taste for low-key, but vital, contributions. His century was his second in consecutive Tests and his fourth in ten home matches, and in all but one of his previous efforts, that Headingley piece de resistance, he has played second fiddle to a more noteworthy performance.
To think Butcher couldn't force his way into Surrey's team at the beginning of the summer. Still, being overlooked is nothing new to him - he is unique among modern England cricketers, in that he has played more than 50 Tests, but not a single one-day international. But since that 2001 reincarnation, he has shown a priceless ability to leave any fretting in the dressing-room, and get on with the job in hand. Amid all the talk of Nasser Hussain's successor, it is a wonder that Butcher's name has not been mentioned more often.
Ahead of the day's play, the smart money would have been on yet another Alec Stewart v-sign to the vultures, but The Gaffer's main contributions were a brace of zealous shuttle runs to fine leg when England finally took the field. Instead McGrath took centre stage, becoming only the third specialist batsman in a decade, after Thorpe and Marcus Trescothick, to score a debut half-century for England.
Raised on Headingley's greentops, McGrath was at home against the moving ball, and his maiden innings would have been satisfying both to himself and to Duncan Fletcher, whose hunches have rarely failed him. As befits a Yorkshireman, McGrath required a Boycottian piece of running to get off the mark, but three fours in four balls off Andy Blignaut were Vaughanish in their quality. It was tough luck on Robert Key, who did his hard work Down Under, but was sawn off by a duff decision today.
And by the end of the day, another debutant had proved a (rather more predictable) success. Apart from living up to the hype, James Anderson has managed a rare double - he has appeared from nowhere, while seeming to have been around forever. The only surprise was that it took him 20 balls to take his first wicket.
Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Wisden CricInfo.