Cricket: Allott shines in the gloom

Former fat man becomes a fast man and bags a hatful of wickets.
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The Independent Online
IT IS a fair guess that, when the organisers of the World Cup came up with the slogan Super Six, they did not have Zimbabwe versus New Zealand on a soggy day in Yorkshire in mind. As carnivals of cricket go, yesterday left a lot to be desired.

To be fair, far more glamorous sides would have found it hard to excite the senses when charcoal, moisture-laden clouds stopped proceedings twice - and nothing drags more slowly than a sports event stopped by rain. But this was two unremarkable sides at their less compelling; underdog day without real bite.

You could have anticipated what would happen even as you searched Leeds' streets for Headingley. The journey to the last World Cup game here had been through a green and white wall of Pakistanis making their loud, exuberant and colourful way to see their team defeat Australia. Yesterday you would been hard put to realise anything was going on.

Which made the nearly full stands a surprise. The supporters of New Zealand and Zimbabwe are as understated as their teams, but if they went home deeply satisfied by what they had seen they must lead even quieter lives than their demeanour implies. One-day cricket is supposed to compress excitement for the modern, fleeting attention span; at times the Zimbabwe innings seemed to stretch out the tedium.

From 45 for 3, Zimbabwe had little option but to consolodate, but once Murray Goodwin and Alistair Campbell had averted the crisis they threw adventure to the wind and went from slow to a near stop. Ten overs from medium-paced trundlers without a wicket-threatening ball among them allowed the Zimbabweans to fling the bat to the extent that they plundered 22 runs. Gripping it was not.

The price was paid at the end of the innings, when Zimbabwe had to enter the realms of the unrealistic and they crumpled from 136 for 3 to 175 all out.

The surprising thing was that the first 11 overs had led to expectations of much more. Runs flowed from the bat of Neil Johnson, while Geoff Allott bowled with a miserly, ruler-straight venom that sets him apart from the other Kiwis in being a bowler who constantly threatens to take wickets.

Three months ago Allott was dropped during a Test series in South Africa, but work in the nets with Sir Richard Hadlee's brother, Dayle, and the seamer-friendly conditions in England have transformed him into the the most dangerous bowler of the World Cup. Three wickets yesterday took his tally to 18, which comfortably outstrips everyone else in the tournament.

The attention has been on the jet-propelled Shoaib Akhtar but it is Allott, whose burly frame still betrays the time when he was considered too fat to be a top class bowler, who has been despatching batsmen. His pace is deceptive, too, his fastest ball recording 91mph compared to the 95mph the Rawalpindi Express delivered for Pakistan against South Africa on Saturday.

Allott allies deception with raw pace, however, and the yorker which confused Zimbabwe's most dangerous batsmen, Neil Johnson, was 10mph slower, defeating the desperate attempt to drop the bat and hitting the stumps via the pad.

The delivery which removed Andy Flower was also a beauty, rearing up off a length to catch the edge and loop to point, where Craig McMillan dived forward to take the catch.

At the end of his first spell, Allott's analysis read 2 for 10 off six overs and two further returns to the action at the sharp end of the innings hardly dented these near-pristine figures. His final ball was skied by Guy Whittall to leave him with 3 for 24.

On a day with little drama, his was the one world class performance.