Cricket: England bowlers wake up

England 210-9; Matabeleland 151 England win by 59 runs
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The Independent Online
At last, England have stemmed their embarrassing losing habit and won a match against first-class opposition. But before this gives the Test and County Cricket Board an excuse to begin popping champagne corks all over St John's Wood, it should be remembered that Matabeleland represent the weaker of Zimbabwe's two provincial sides and, efficient though England's bowling performance was, their batting was littered with rash strokes and soft dismissals.

It could have been the heat - Bulawayo is at least five degrees hotter than Harare - a point Michael Atherton later made, when he said that England were still acclimatising. "I thought it was a particularly good bowling performance, especially in the first 15 overs when Gough and Mullally bowled exceptionally well. Actually, our confidence is high, despite what the doom and gloom brigade have been saying."

With a return of his back condition, Atherton was thought to be a non- starter for this match. However, after two pain-killing injections he appeared entirely rejuvenated, batting with commanding ease and fielding with glee, neatly executing the run-out that ended Heath Streak's innings. In the end, it was Alec Stewart who was forced to withdraw with back spasms during warm-ups as he, Andy Caddick and Phil Tufnell were left out.

Before this game, England's batting has struggled to get over the new ball. It was unsurprising then, that Matabeleland won the toss and asked them to bat on a slow but flat pitch. A deliberate ploy, being that the strip here at the Bulawayo Athletic club bears only a passing resemblance to the bouncy pitch at the Queen's Club where the first Test is due to be played in just over a week's time.

Moving more freely than of late, Atherton looked in commanding mid-season form, taking crisp boundaries from Zimbawe's probable new ball attack: the bustling Streak and the brisk Henry Olonga, a bowler whose shorter balls hurry more than those of a fuller length.

Nick Knight, almost as shy of runs as his captain, adopted a more measured approach. Related to Headley Verity, whose surname he was given as a second name, he showed much of the great Yorkshire spinner's calm temperament in compiling a steadying half-century. However, having watched his captain, Nasser Hussain, and Graham Thorpe get out to lazy shots, his mistimed mow to midwicket was fairly brainless with the hard work done.

That shot gave Andy Whittal, a recently graduated captain of Cambridge University, the last of his three wickets, a flattering reward for what was little more than tidy off-spin. But if that flattered, the gentle medium pace of his cousin and namesake Guy wreaked even more havoc as England's late middle-order were uprooted. Having been humiliated by chicken farmers and accountants in Harare, England were in danger of succumbing to a graduate and his big game-hunting relative.

But for John Crawley's unfussy contribution, England might have struggled to make 210, as incoming batsmen found the softening white ball hard to time and even harder to place off the sluggish surface.

This combination also proved a problem when the local team batted. Unlike many sides playing modern one-day cricket, their response lacked a decisive battle plan, and they were always going to struggle to accelerate a pedestrian run-rate once they had vetoed the pinch-hitting option in the first 15 overs, an option made virtually untenable by the accurate and awkward length bowled by Gough and Mullally.

Chris Silverwood, who had a nervous debut in the previous one-day game, ran in with more resolve here, his two wickets the reward for coping with new boy nerves, and he gamely blunted the expected mid-innings assault, removing the dangerous Guy Whittal for 35. More wickets too for Robert Croft, whose cunning, quicker arm ball brought a pair of lbws, as first the languid Trevor Madondo and then Mark Abrams both played premeditated sweep shots.

Apart from a difficult chance spilled by Russell, England's catching was safe and their ground-fielding steady. Only their batting needs urgent work and with just one four-day game against the same opposition before the first Test, time is running short for an order still far from settled.

In the local N'debele language, Bulawayo means "place of slaughter". However, if England can keep improving, it may just be the place that breathed some life back into their tour.

Scoreboard

One day; Matabeleland won toss

ENGLAND

N V Knight c Ranchod b A R Whittall 58

*M A Atherton c Rennie b Streak 28

N Hussain c Streak b A R Whittall 11

G P Thorpe c Dekker b A R Whittall 11

J P Crawley c Ranchod b Dekker 30

R C Irani c Rennie b G J Whittall 20

R C Russell c Abrams b G J Whittall 15

D Gough b G J Whittall 2

R D B Croft b G J Whittall 9

A D Mullally not out 9

C E W Silverwood not out 1

Extras (lb3, w11, nb2) 16

Total (for 9, 50 overs) 210

Fall: 1-45, 2-96, 3-116, 4-120, 5-173, 6-175, 7-184, 8-193, 9-201.

Bowling: Streak 7-0-28-1; Olonga 9-0-43-0; Rennie 7-0-24-0; A R Whittall 10-1-35-3; G J Whittall 10-0-45-4; Dekker 7-0-32-1.

MATABELELAND

G J Whittall c Gough b Silverwood 35

J R Craig b Mullally 1

M H Dekker c Thorpe b Mullally 3

T N Madondo lbw b Croft 13

W R James c Knight b Croft 33

M D Abrams lbw b Croft 33

H H Streak run out 13

M Ranchod c Mullally b Silverwood 5

*J A Rennie b Irani 5

A R Whittall not out 3

H K Olonga b Gough 0

Extras (lb3, w3, nb1) 7

Total (43.3 overs) 151

Fall: 1-6, 2-20, 3-44, 4-64, 5-112, 6-136, 7-136, 8-147, 9-149.

Bowling: Mullally 7-2-14-2; Gough 8.3-2-17-1; Silverwood 10-0-31-2; Croft 10-0-42-3; Irani 8-0-44-1.

Umpires: J Fenwick and E Gilmour.

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