Cricket: World Cup - Mullally restores English honour: Zimbabwe 167-8 England 168-3 England win by seven wickets

World Cup: Efficient performances by Thorpe and Hussain guide the hosts to comfortable success over their nemesis
Click to follow
The Independent Online
IT WAS not quite murder, but England and their coach would have settled for any means necessary to dispose of their nemeses, Zimbabwe. That they did so by seven wickets and with 69 balls to spare makes their progress to the next stage of the competition a virtual certainty, though much will depend on the other results in their group and it may yet come down to run-rate should India win their last two games, including the one against England at Edgbaston on Saturday.

In a match that barely raised a flicker of excitement until the dying moments, when Graeme Thorpe and Nasser Hussain suddenly cut loose, England controlled the day from start to finish. In many ways it was just the kind of efficient performance they are good at - providing the opposition does not kick up too much fuss. After Alec Stewart had won the toss and elected to bowl first, Zimbabwe did not, and following the removal of their early order by the man of the match, Alan Mullally, and Darren Gough, the result was never really in doubt.

That does not mean everything is tickety-boo with England's game. For one thing, their skipper scratched about like an archaeologist uncovering some precious booty, and their fifth bowler (a combination of Andrew Flintoff and Adam Hollioake), though not as expensive as Australia's concoction the other day, is a weak link that the better teams will fully exploit should England make the Super Six stage.

Only Thorpe looked in the kind of form that wins big games and, unlike his colleagues, he timed the ball from first to last in his 80-ball knock of 62. If he lacks the body language to be truly inspirational, Thorpe's shot selection and execution were spot-on. Hussain, almost as edgy as Stewart to begin with, certainly benefited and once Thorpe had shown that the demons were largely imagined, the Essex captain relaxed to play some handsome strokes in his unbeaten 57.

The pair seemed to reserve their best shots for Henry Olonga, whose pre- match comments that England panic in a way other teams do not probably singled him out for some special treatment. Faster and skiddier than the other bowlers, the dreadlocked one's three overs cost 27 runs and just about the only dot balls he managed were the ones the batsmen could not reach.

Graeme Hick, a batting sensation in Australia during the winter, was disappointing. A prodigal son of Zimbabwean soil, he is probably still ambivalent towards a country that sustained and nurtured him until his early twenties. With scores of 0, 62 and 8 in his previous three games against them, he has yet to convince his old chums that he is the big fish that got away.

Yesterday's dismissal was no different and a gentle outswinger from Mpumelelo Mbangwa found an outside edge that was even more gently hung out to dry.

Apart from their garish, orange day-glo kit, little about Zimbabwe stood out at all. Put into bat, they struggled to come to terms with a pitch that offered bounce and occasional sideways movement. By far the weaker of the two southern African sides in this competition, Zimbabwe are used to batting on slow surfaces that offer little in the way of deviation. Their successes bear this out, most having come at home and in the subcontinent, where bland surfaces do not expose batsmen who like to hit through the line.

A white ball prone to swinging and seaming is a different matter, though the profusion of wides means the bowlers are not having it all their own way. In between the 17 England bowled, there were enough testing deliveries to ensure life would be difficult for batsmen.

They say the huge Radcliffe Road stand, built last season, has increased the swing potential of Trent Bridge. Gough's early overs appeared to bear this out and he was unlucky not to have Grant Flower lbw when the opener was on 6. His partner Neil Johnson was less fortunate and Gough bowled the left-hander off his pads.

Before this match, England had lost five out of six one-day internationals to Zimbabwe. Considering they are picking from a pool of players not much larger than your average county staff, the record was an embarrassment and one England needed to rectify, if only to stop the industry in T-shirts bearing David Lloyd's infamous cri de coeur from Bulawayo - "We Flippin Murdered 'Em."

There were plenty being sported by the Zimbabwean faction of the crowd yesterday, though the introduction of Mullally, prevented the irony from bearing fruit. The angular left-arm paceman is a far more destructive bowler than the one that toured Zimbabwe with England in 1996, and he quickly limited his opponents ambitions by removing Paul Strang and the dangerous Murray Goodwin.

Promoted as a pinch-hitter, Strang was rendered strokeless by Mullally's steep bounce, a factor he eventually succumbed to after failing to open his account. Goodwin was also undone, though his nervy push went to first slip rather than second.

Zimbabwe never really recovered after that and only a 45-run partnership between their captain, Alistair Campbell, and Guy Whittall saved them from the kind of humiliation experienced so recently by England against South Africa at The Oval.