Cricket: Waugh twins reach their peak

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The Independent Online
THE WAUGH twins have excelled for so long now that it is easy to forget quite how remarkable they are. Against Zimbabwe at Lord's yesterday, their run-a-ball partnership of 152 meant that the match was pretty much decided by lunchtime. Mark Waugh, in particular, played with the casual brilliance that has become his trademark, swishing boundaries as if he were flicking someone (his brother perhaps) with a towel.

The implausible classiness of these twins is a true biological freak. I wonder if their father, watching them calmly stroking fours, ever casts his mind back to the time when they were children. "Boys, boys, how many times do I have to say it? Stop squabbling for heaven's sake. No, your bats are exactly the same. I don't care if Mark's got bigger pads - he's taller. Well, I'm sorry, you've got to learn to take turns. You are on the same team, remember. No, we're not playing one hand, one bounce. Because. I know, I know. Jesus, how many times..."

They were at it again yesterday. Mark even whacked a ball into his brother's helmet, as if to remind him how things used to be.

It was that kind of day. Zimbabwe's batsmen - Neil Johnson and Murray Goodwin leading the way - made an extremely brave fist of setting about Australia's daunting total, and in so doing exposed a worrying frailty in the Australian bowling attack: if McGrath doesn't deliver early wickets, they lack teeth.

However, the result was rarely in doubt, so the spectators were left to ponder side issues, such as the value of a format that could allow Zimbabwe, on the strength of three wins (and two rainy days) in eight games, to secure a berth in the semi-finals.

Even the pummelling they suffered against Australia may not be enough to deny them a shot at the knock-out phase. It is hard to begrudge them their happy position: they did beat both of the sides that beat England, after all - and they gave Australia a good run for their money. But going into yesterday's match we had a situation in which India, who had produced five century-makers so far, looked doomed, while Zimbabwe looked safe. Oh well.

There have been strangely few close finishes in this World Cup - three, to be precise. India and Zimbabwe went down to the wire, so too did Australia and Pakistan; and South Africa pulled one out of the fire when Lance Klusener clobbered the last few overs to secure an improbable win against Pakistan.

No one is to blame: it's just the way things have turned out. Yesterday's match was characteristic, a succession of impressive cameos (Neil Johnson hitting Shane Warne for four fours in an over on his way to a historic hundred) which somehow had little bearing on the result.

Of all the factors that have made this a slightly low-throttle World Cup, this scarcity of tight climaxes is the decisive one. One-day cricket is all about end-games, but most of this tournament's winners have strolled over the finishing line with their hands in their pockets.

It does rather seem, as a result, that the competition might be remembered mainly for its amazing number of wides and for the bizarre concentration of golden ducks: 18, so far. Those jokey first-ball clubs will have to get some extra ties made. Quite what they have been putting in the batsmen's pre- innings isotonic drinks is anyone's guess.

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