Cricket: Zimbabwe's fears over bowling are unfounded

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England's awful bowling on the first morning meant that it was always going to be a struggle for them to get back into this match, but at least it was a performance the bowlers had got out of their system.

But, far from it, for their bowling on the second morning was every bit as bad and had ensured that England are going to have an enormous fight to save this first Test match against Zimbabwe.

At the team meeting the night before the match one gathers that the Zimbabwean batting was minutely examined. Strengths and weaknesses were identified and a plan of campaign was devised for each of the opposing batsmen. The bowlers were left in no doubt as to what they should do.

Yet, in the event, they were, until Robert Croft began to bowl so well on the first afternoon, all of them unable to produce. After the first day's play or before the start of the second they will surely have had another meeting to plot the course of events when Zimbabwe continued their innings.

As it was, the bowling was at least as bad as it had been on the first morning. Darren Gough was all over the place and not that fast either. One ball was short and wide and square cut, then followed a half-volley which was driven and after that came a couple the batsman had no need to play a stroke at.

Alan Mullally was dreadful. In his first four overs the batsmen only had to play nine balls out of the 24. Chris Silverwood's line was better but he never looked like getting the ball past the bat and the Zimbabweans who had gone into the match a trifle apprehensive at what England's faster bowlers might do to them, could scarcely believe their luck.

It was the most depressing performance which led one to the inescapable conclusion that the seam bowlers are simply not up to it.

This time England were not saved by spin. Croft, who was driven and pulled for fours in the second over of the day, did not bowl as well as he had done on Wednesday. At the other end, Phil Tufnell did not, to start with, pitch the ball up enough. He should have been trying to bring the batsmen on to the front foot to drive.

The last ball of the day before rain brought things to a halt was another sad reflection. The Zimbabwean leg spinner, Paul Strang, was always going to be the danger man for England and Mike Atherton, of all people, made a bad mistake.

He played back and not forward to a leg spinner who was pushing the ball through and bowling to a full length and he was trapped leg-before. One had hoped that India's Anil Kumble had taught that lesson to England's batsmen.

Atherton's dismissal was a serious psychological blow and it looks increasingly as if the result of this match lies in Strang's spinning fingers.

Bulawayo scoreboard

Second day; Zimbabwe won toss

ZIMBABWE - First innings

(Overnight: 256 for 6)

A Flower c Stewart b Tufnell 112

(365 min, 331 balls, 12 fours)

P A Strang c Tufnell b Silverwood 38

(108 min, 69 balls, 7 fours)

H H Streak b Mullally 19

(70 min, 60 balls, 2 fours)

B C Strang not out 4

(45 min, 2 balls, 1 four)

H K Olonga c Knight b Tufnell 0

(2 min, 4 balls)

Extras (lb4,w3,nb13) 20

Total (535 min, 137.5 overs) 376

Fall (cont): 7-331 (P Strang), 8-372 (Streak), 9-376 (A Flower), 10-376 (Olonga).

Bowling: Mullally 23-4-69-1 (nb1,w2) (5-1-19-0 3-1-11-0 4-0-9-0 2-1-4- 0 5-1-11-0 2-0-2-0 2-0-13-1); Gough 26-4-87-1 (nb5, w1) (6-3-13-1 4-0- 16-0 5-1-16-0 4-0-15-0 2-0-10-0 5-0-17-0); Silverwood 18-5-63-3 (nb6) (4-0-25-0 6-1- 25-1 3-3-0-1 5-1-13-1); Croft 44-15-77-3 (5-1-16-0 11-4-22-1 12-6-7-2 3-1-9-0 8-3-9-0 5-0-14-0); Tufnell 26.5-4-76-2 (nb3) (3-0-8-0 4-0-19-0 8-2-19-0 4-0-18-0 7.5-2-12-2).

Progress: First day: 50: 71 min, 16.3 overs. 100: 114 min, 27.4 overs. Lunch: 109-1 (G Flower 34, Campbell 70) 30 overs. 150: 177 min, 42.5 overs. 200: 244 min, 60 overs. Tea: 200-3 (Houghton 33, A Flower 31) 60 overs. New ball taken after 84 overs at 242-5. 250: 338 min, 86 overs. Close: 256-6 (A Flower 58, P Strang 0) 92 overs. Second day: 300: 419 min, 106.4 overs. Lunch: 337-7 (A Flower 94, Streak 3) 123 overs. 350: 507 min, 131 overs. Innings closed 1.30pm.

Campbell's 50: 74 min, 72 balls, 9 fours.

A Flower's 50: 153 min, 139 balls, 6 fours. 100: 341 min,313 balls, 10 fours.

ENGLAND - First innings

N V Knight not out 29

(57 min, 43 balls, 4 fours)

*M A Atherton lbw b P Strang 16

(57 min, 43 balls, 2 fours)

Extras (nb3) 3

Total (for 1, 57 min, 13.5 overs) 48

Fall: 1-48 (Atherton).

To bat: A J Stewart, N Hussain, G P Thorpe, J P Crawley, R D B Croft, D Gough, A D Mullally, C E W Silverwood, P C R Tufnell.

Bowling: Streak 6-2-11-0 (nb2); B Strang 5-0-21-0; P Strang 1.5-0-6-1; Olonga 1-0-10-0 (nb1) (one spell each).

Progress: Second day: Tea 48-1 (Knight 29) 13.5 overs. Rain and bad light prevented restart after tea. Play abandoned at 4.35pm.

Umpires: R S Dunne and I D Robinson. TV replay umpire: R B Tiffin. Match referee: Hanumant Singh.