Cricket: England's turn for the better

First Test: Referee's rebuke casts a shadow after Tufnell makes the most of Crawley's painstaking century
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A patient century by John Crawley, followed by some spirited bowling, has put England within sight of an unexpected Test victory here in Bulawayo. Unfortunately, the performance was tarnished when the match referee, Hanumant Singh, issued a reprimand to the manager John Barclay, as well as coach and captain, over England's appealing. He felt that some of England's concerted calls contravened the spirit of the game and brought it into disrepute.

Singh, a Test player for India in the 1960s, and a recent coach to Kenya, felt that some of England's close fielders were putting "undue pressure on the umpire by running towards him with a chorus of appeal".

In a supercharged session after tea, and with men clustered around the bat, the appealing was certainly never less than wholehearted. Probably the most blatant example came during the penultimate over when Nick Knight charged towards umpire Steve Dunn, claiming a catch after the batsman Bryan Strang had padded away a ball from Phil Tufnell.

Barclay thought the reprimand "did not take the gloss off a very good day" but added that England would "try to modify their enthusiasm".

England's cricket in this match continues to confound and, having made a ripe old hash of yesterday's batting, they now find themselves staring at a victory they cannot have envisaged at the end of the second day's play. If today's efforts prove more focused, England should win this Test, though the spectre of Paul Strang, with five first-innings wickets, will weigh heavy should they need to score in excess of 170.

The pitch, solid and slow where the bowlers' spikes have not scoured the surface, will still make England's task far from straightforward, though the dismissal of David Houghton, in the day's penultimate over, was crucial in tilting the balance the tourists' way. Nevertheless, Zimbabwe have depth to their batting and England must guard against their habit of sitting back and waiting for their opponents to self-destruct while they admire the view.

As has been evident throughout the match, spin is likely to be the decisive factor. England's pairing of Robert Croft and Tufnell should be crucial to the outcome, though perhaps not in tandem as they were yesterday evening. Only one end of the pitch is taking spin, and even then only out of generous foot-holes. Tufnell exploited these cannily, removing the left-handed Andy Flower with one that bounced viciously, and the prized Houghton, whose leading edge was a result of casually flicking against the spin.

It was from the same Airport End that Croft had earlier speared an arm ball through Alistair Campbell, the first significant blow after Darren Gough and Alan Mullally had removed the openers.

Crawley's prolonged machinations with the tail as he inched towards his hundred were as painstaking as European efforts to achieve monetary union by the millennium. Like Britain's position at Maastricht, Tufnell was stolid and unbending, save one heart-stopping moment with Crawley on 96 when he was dropped by Andy Flower after edging Heath Streak to the wicketkeeper's right and weaker hand. Having got the strike, Crawley then took a ball to gird his loins before marmalising the next for six, high over straight mid-wicket towards the scoreboard, as Streak dug in short.

It was the Lancashire player's second three-figure score in consecutive Tests, perhaps suggesting that some psychological and some obvious technical battles had been fought and won. Before this, his 13th Test, he averaged just 28.22. Apart from Knight all the others average above the 40 mark, a chasm not borne out on current form, where Crawley and Nasser Hussain are the clear front-runners.

More heartening from the England team's point of view is that two of their top six batsmen scored hundreds in the first innings of a Test. Of course it is a feat that is diluted by Zimbabwe's limited attack which, with Streak not fully fit and firing, has just one overworked bowler of Test class.

It was fear of what Paul Strang's leg-breaks might do on the final day that probably caused England's aimless meandering yesterday morning when 61 runs were added to their overnight score of 306 for four. With Zimbabwe operating defensively, and England initiating little more than a stroll with the bat, a draw looked certain.

Hussain, another who had played well to make the game safe for England on the third day, had even talked of getting a substantial lead by tea, a hope that lay largely with him continuing his partnership with Crawley.

In the event such talk proved useless as Hussain, clearly frustrated by his side's lack of progress, was drawn into hooking Streak's bouncer. The temptation brought his downfall as Bryan Strang at long leg clung on to a brilliantly judged one- handed catch - albeit with his dominant left hand - that would have gone for six.

It slowed an already decelerating pace to a virtual standstill, as first Croft and then Gough, dyslexic against Strang's googly, both tried to take liberties with Henry Olonga, whose well disguised slower ball is gaining in reputation, something Gough found to his cost when he chipped it tamely to short leg.

Chris Silverwood capped a mixed bowling debut with a batting duck and when Mullally - eventually playing his natural long-handle game - was caught on the hook, England's original plan for winning had foundered. Plan B is now in operation, and depends on how quickly England can remove Zimbabwe's lengthy batting order.

Henry Blofeld, page 27

First Test scoreboard

Zimbabwe won toss

ZIMBABWE - First Innings 376 (A Flower 112, A D R Campbell 84).

ENGLAND - First Innings

(Overnight: 306 for 4)

N Hussain c B Strang b Streak 113

(356 min, 278 balls, 14 fours; top-edged hook, brilliant catch at fine leg)

J P Crawley c A Flower b P Strang 112

(374 min, 297 balls, 9 fours, 1 six; tried to run leg-break, edged to wicketkeeper)

R D B Croft lbw b Olonga 7

(30 min, 22 balls, 1 four; played across straight ball)

D Gough c G Flower b Olonga 2

(7 min, 6 balls; chipped slower ball to short leg)

C E W Silverwood c Houghton b P Strang 0

(15 min, 17 balls; edged leg-break gently to gulley)

A D Mullally c Waller b Streak 4

(46 min, 27 balls, 1 four; hooked to deep square-leg)

P C R Tufnell not out 2

(43 min, 23 balls)

Extras (b4 lb4 w1 nb24) 33

Total (610 min, 151.4 overs) 406

Fall: 1-48 (Atherton) 2-92 (Knight) 3-160 (Stewart) 4-180 (Thorpe) 5- 328 (Hussain) 6-340 (Croft) 7-344 (Gough) 8-353 (Silverwood) 9-378 (Mullally) 10-406 (Crawley).

Bowling: Streak 36-8-86-2 (nb15) (6-2-11-0, 3-1-21-0, 6-2-8-0, 3-0-7- 0, 5-1-5-0, 7-2-14-1, 6-0-20-1); B Strang 17-5-54-0 (nb2) (5-0-21-0, 5-0-22-0, 7-5-11-0); P Strang 58.4-14-123-5 (14-4-25-1, 20-6-46-2, 24.4-4-52-2); Olonga 23- 2-90-3 (nb10 w1) (1-0-10-0, 6-1-22-1, 5-0-24-0, 5-0-16-0, 6-1-18-2); Whittall 10-2-25-0 (nb1)(7-2-19-0, 3-0-6-0); G Flower 7-3-20-0 (one spell).

Progress: Fourth day: 350: 513 min, 128.1 overs. Lunch 367-8 (Crawley 84, Mullally 0) 135 overs. 400: 595 min, 147.5 overs. Innings closed 1.46pm.

Knight's 50: 96 min, 73 balls, 8 fours. Hussain's 50: 177 min, 131 balls, 7 fours. 100: 307 min, 240 balls, 13 fours. Crawley's 50: 169 min, 145 balls, 7 fours. 100: 348 min, 271 balls, 9 fours, 1 six.

ZIMBABWE - Second Innings

G W Flower lbw b Gough 0

(18 min, 15 balls; offered no shot to inswinger)

S V Carlisle c Atherton b Mullally 4

(15 min, 12 balls, 1 four; poked slower ball to silly mid-off)

*A D R Campbell b Croft 29

(67 min, 46 balls, 4 four; beaten by arm ball)

D L Houghton c Croft b Tufnell 37

(158 min, 117 balls, 5 fours; flicking to leg against the spin)

A Flower c Crawley b Tufnell 14

(52 min, 41 balls, 1 four; prodded lifting ball to short leg)

A C Waller not out 14

(45 min, 38 balls, 1 four, 1 six)

B C Strang not out 0

(4 min, 3 balls)

Extras (b2 lb4 w1 nb2) 9

Total (for 5, 183 min, 45 overs) 107

Fall: 1-6 (Carlisle) 2-6 (G Flower) 3-57 (Campbell) 4-82 (A Flower) 5- 103 (Houghton).

Bowling: Gough 8-2-29-1 (nb1) (one spell); Mullally 12-3-36-1 (7-2-23- 1, 5-1-13-); Croft 13-5-19-1 (8-3-7-1, 5-2-12-0); Silverwood 5-2-7-0 (nb1); Tufnell 7-3- 10-2 (one spell each).

Progress: Tea 27-2 (Campbell 7, Houghton 13) 10 overs. 50: 61 min, 14 overs. 100: 166 min, 40.1 overs.

Umpires: R S Dunne and I D Robinson.

TV Replay Umpire: R B Tiffin. Match Referee: Hanumant Singh.