Cricket: Zimbabwe stick to their plan

England 156 Zimbabwe 93-2
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The Independent Online
This was the second time in two days England have been rained upon from a very great height. Although this time it was more literal than metaphorical, with all but four balls of the final session being wiped out, you still get the impression that England are being toyed with from above as well as on the field.

The downpour, which lasted for two hours, meant that Zimbabwe only batted for 48.4 overs. At less than two runs per over, it was painfully slow going - and yet this is how Test cricket is meant to be played. Anyone who saw the nuts and bolts going into the long-term construction of Zimbabwe's total cannot have failed to realise that it was simply an illustration of how to bat in a five-day match, something England, the old-stagers of the game, appear to have forgotten.

On the other hand, England optimists - a breed almost as thick-skinned and rare as the black Rhino itself - will see the rain as an opportunity for Michael Atherton's team to get back into the match, with the time lost forcing Zimbabwe to swap their plodding game plan for something more inherently risky.

If so, they have failed to reckon with two things: first, Grant Flower's rooting ability on this black cotton soil pitch; and, second, the fact that England have the wrong bowling attack to exploit such a slow surface.

Flower, at least here at Harare Sports Club, is about as immovable as one of Raymond Illingworth's opinions. Two years ago here, he hit an 11- hour double-century against Pakistan in the longest innings ever by a Zimbabwe player - its monolithic qualities, as well as the slowness of the outfield, being emphasised by the fact that just 10 fours were scored.

The bad news for just about everyone is that he is still there, the unperturbed frequency of his forward lunge draining the life from England's bowlers. At one stage, just before tea, England thought they had prised him from his crease. Alec Stewart completed a smart leg-side take off Robert Croft that every close fielder felt the batsman had hit. Not out said umpire Russell Tiffin and Flower went on to finish the day unbeaten on 33, having spent almost 200 minutes at the crease.

As tenures go, it was about three hours longer than that of his opening partner, the left-handed Mark Dekker, who, after being drafted in to replace Stuart Carlisle, had the misfortune to receive and then edge a ball Alan Mullally managed to slant away from him.

Before yesterday, Mullally's approach with the ball had been to try and bore out the un-boreable, with a spectacular lack of success. Yesterday, however, he ran in with real purpose, tightened his line and even got the ball to swing in to the right-handers, although several close calls for lbw against Flower failed to be upheld.

He is the only pace bowler in England's side comfortable with pitching the full length required on this wicket. That criterion both Andy Caddick and Chris Silverwood would surely have better fulfilled instead of one of the spinners, whose effectiveness will wane every time the match gets further shrunk by rain.

By contrast, the Yorkshire pair, Darren Gough and Craig White, like to bang the ball into the pitch preferring to use the full-pitched ball - mainly inswinging yorkers - as a surprise.

It is a method Gough more or less confirmed after his 11 wickets against Matabeleland, when he boldly announced that he was "not a line and length bowler". They were never comfortable with the strictures placed on them by conditions and a desperate captain.

Such reticence normally produces a stream of unremarkable deliveries, and one, a long-hop from around the wicket bowled by White, managed to see off Alistair Campbell, who sliced his cut shot straight to Graham Thorpe at first slip.

It is about the only time that Thorpe, whose batting is going through a wretched patch, has contributed to England's cause in this series. It has been a confidence-sapping experience that many believe would have been better alleviated had England batted the in-form John Crawley in front of him at No 5.

Crawley, who with Phil Tufnell added a further 19 runs in the morning, is playing probably the most assured cricket of his career and he ended his 220-minute stay at the crease unbeaten on 47, after Tufnell chested a short ball from Heath Streak on to his stumps.

That dismissal brought Streak his fourth wicket, which was a welcome fillip after the bowler had been fined 15 per cent of his match fee (1,000 Zimbabwe dollars or about pounds 60) by the match referee, Hanumant Singh, for saying he thought he had been lucky to get away with some of the tactics he had used to stop England winning in Bulawayo.

The relief did not stop there either and in an unprecedented move the English media, feeling that the bowler had been unjustly punished, clubbed together to pay Streak's fine for him. It was a gesture made towards the "defence of free speech," a notion this England team is having difficulty in coming to terms with.


Second day; Zimbabwe won toss

ENGLAND - First Innings

(Overnight: 137 for 9)

J P Crawley not out 47

(217 min, 169 balls, 3 fours)

P C R Tufnell b Streak 9

(56 min, 37 balls, 1 four)

Extras (b1, lb5, w1, nb5) 12

Total (351 min, 83.1 overs) 156

Bowling: Streak 24.1-7-43-4 (nb2, w1) (4-0-13-0, 10-2-11-3, 5-2-10-0, 5.1-3-9-1); Brandes 16-6-35-0 (3-0-11-0, 4-0-13-0, 7-5-7-0, 2-1-4-0); Olonga 9-1-23-1 (nb3) (5-0-13-1, 4-1-10-0); Whittall 16-5-18-4 (4-2-2- 1, 5-1-7-1, 4-2-3-2, 3-0-6-0); Strang 18-7-31-1 (1-0-5-0, 17-7-26-1).

Progress: New ball: Taken after 80 overs at 147-9. 150: 340 min, 80.5 overs. Innings closed: 10.42pm.

ZIMBABWE - First Innings

G W Flower not out 33

(193 min, 144 balls, 2 fours)

M H Dekker c Stewart b Mullally 2

(19 min, 16 balls)

*A D R Campbell c Thorpe b White 22

(71 min, 53 balls, 2 fours)

D L Houghton not out 26

(101 min, 83 balls, 1 four)

Extras (lb6, nb4) 10

Total (for 2, 193 min, 48.4 overs) 93

Fall: 1-5 (Dekker), 2-46 (Campbell).

To bat: A Flower, A C Waller, G J Whittall, P A Strang, H H Streak, E A Brandes, H K Olonga.

Bowling: Mullally 12-3-22-1 (7-2-14-1, 5-1-8-0); Gough 11-5-13-0 (nb3) (5-2-6-0, 6-3-7-0); Croft 8-0-23-0 (3-0-11-0, 5-0-12-0); White 7.4-1-13- 1 (7-1-13-1, 0.4-0-0-0); Tufnell 10-3-16-0 (nb1) (one spell).

Progress: Lunch: 36-1 (G Flower 16, Campbell 15) 17 overs. 50: 103 min, 25.3 overs. Tea: 93-2 (G Flower 33, Houghton 26) 48 overs. Rain stopped play: 3.06pm. Play abandoned: 4.03pm.

Umpires: K T Francis (Sri Lanka) and R B Tiffin (Zim).