Angus Fraser: Solanki puts a gloss on the shortcomings
Sunday 05 December 2004
A dazzling century from Vikram Solanki ensured that England moved into an unassailable 3-0 lead in their four-match series against Zimbabwe and allowed Michael Vaughan's side to maintain their 100 per cent record in southern Africa.
The Worcestershire captain reached his second one-day hundred off the 89th ball he faced with a gentle push to long-on - in stark contrast to the violent display preceding it. Solanki's century contained 14 boundaries and two beautifully struck sixes, which thudded into the sightscreen at the city end of the ground.
The opener needed this innings. Solanki has looked in reasonable form on the three-week tour of Namibia and Zimbabwe, but Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen were putting his place under pressure. When he chipped a simple catch to long-off, England were a mere 46 runs from their target.
"If there was one disappointment today, it was that I was not there at the end," he said. "But I am obviously ecstatic to have scored a hundred. This was an excellent pitch to play one-day cricket on and it allowed us to put the Zimbabwe bowlers under pressure and bat as we did."
His departure slowed the run-rate, but he had allowed Vaughan and Andrew Strauss to use the rest of the match for practice. They carefully guided England to Zimbabwe's respectable total of 238 for 7, reaching the target with 41 balls to spare. Vaughan passed 50 for the 11th time in one-day internationals, and Bell played several glorious strokes in his innings of 53.
But while Vaughan revels in the way his batsmen have performed in Zimbabwe, there will be concern over the bowling. England dropped Darren Gough here to give James Anderson and Simon Jones as much bowling as possible before the First Test against South Africa in 12 days' time.
Both are competing for the final bowling spot in England's Test side - Stephen Harmison, Matthew Hoggard and Andrew Flintoff will all play in Port Elizabeth, assuming they are fit - but neither put forward a strong claim.
Ashley Giles will be happy with his work, but England's best bowler here has been Alex Wharf. The Glamorgan paceman's aggressive style has brought him seven wickets, and he has conceded fewer than four runs an over.
Anderson again looked at odds with himself. The Lancashire paceman works tirelessly between matches but has shown little improvement since England arrived in Namibia 19 days ago.
Ideally he should have one aim as he runs in to bowl: to hit the top of off stump. But this is proving far more difficult than it sounds. He has concerns over his action, no-balls, running on the pitch and the direction of the ball. The 22-year-old has technical problems - his action looks rushed, causing him to push the ball into the right-hander rather than swing it away - but confidence is the biggest issue.
When a bowler is struggling to control the ball, he tends to try to put the ball on a good length rather than bowl it. This reduces the chances of swing and increases the likelihood of running on the pitch. When an action is good, its natural momentum takes the bowler away from the danger area.
Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, has been working with him, but Anderson will have to wait until he reaches Johannesburg before he gets the guidance he requires. Then he will be able to pick the mind of Troy Cooley, the bowling coach who will be in South Africa along with England's eight Test specialists for the five-Test series. But by the time Anderson reaches the solace of Cooley, the damage may have been done.
Jones leaked runs, and had the ignominy of being cut for six by Stuart Matsikenyeri, but his extra pace caused far more problems than Anderson did. Both should play - at the expense of Gough - in the final one-dayer in Bulawayo today, and the selectors will hope that by this evening one of the pair has shown the sort of form they are looking for. England have only four days of competitive cricket before taking on South Africa, and these should be dominated by the Test XI.
Gough, England's highest wicket-taker in one-day cricket, will not have enjoyed being a drinks waiter. After two innocuous performances in Harare the veteran would have feared the worst, but his protestations would have amounted to more than those we have so far seen from any anti-Mugabe demonstrators.
The opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, have not used any of the matches as a stage on which to show their anger.
Should today's match pass without incident, the England and Wales Cricket Board will regard this controversial tour as a success. The co-operation of the players has been crucial, but they will be hoping not to travel to Zimbabwe for some time, unless there is change in the country.
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