Bell excels on debut as England steer clear of politics

Zimbabwe 195, England 197-5 England win by 5 wickets
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One down, three to play. England won the first of their four one-day internationals against Zimbabwe, but the celebrations which followed Kevin Pietersen's glorious straight drive to seal victory were very subdued.

The win, along with an encouraging performance from Ian Bell on his one-day debut, gave England's cricketers the chance for a brief smile but, after a traumatic week, these sentiments would have been dwarfed by a feeling of relief as they left the Harare Sports Club.

Politics dominated the build-up to this controversial match and it did not disappear when the Zimbabwe government decided to rescind its decision to ban 13 members of the British media.

Michael Vaughan's side would still have been worrying about the possibility of Robert Mugabe - the President of Zimbabwe - or one of his senior ministers, turning up at the ground and making a political statement. There was also the fear of ugly scenes should protesters use this game as an opportunity to show their dissatisfaction with Mugabe's regime.

But thankfully for England's players, and the game of cricket, neither of these events took place. If the remaining three matches reach a similar conclusion Vaughan's squad will then have a reason to celebrate.

In a fairly uneventful match, Zimbabwe's young, vibrant side showed that cricket does have a future in this country. England made hard work of their five-wicket win but this had a lot to do with the enthusiasm and commitment of a Zimbabwe team containing five teenagers and nine players under the age of 24. They are a source of encouragement.

As was the performance of Bell. The Warwickshire batsman will surely face sterner tests than this during his international career but the way in which he collected his 75 suggests that he has a bright future in both forms of the game.

Bell gave an indication of his class when he made 70 on his Test debut against the West Indies last summer. The 22 year-old was unfortunate to miss out on England's forthcoming trip to South Africa but looks capable of establishing himself in the side.

Yesterday's innings saw him become the fifth England batsman to score a half-century in his first Test and one-day innings. The other four are Kim Barnett, Chris Broad, Martyn Moxon and Marcus Trescothick.

Replacing Mark Butcher in the Test team may take some time, but Vikram Solanki will need to impress in England's remaining three games here if he is to hold on to his place when a refreshed Trescothick returns.

Solanki went for seven as England chased Zimbabwe's 195 and this brought in Vaughan. The England captain obviously likes batting with Bell. This is only the second occasion they have batted together - the pair put on 146 together at The Oval - but once again they shared a partnership of more than 100 runs.

Both players are technically very correct, though Bell does not yet possess the power of Vaughan. But he is wise and instead of trying to smash the ball across a slow outfield he looked to execute the shot properly.

Having scored 56, and taken England to within 64 runs of victory Vaughan then hoicked the occasional off-spin of Stuart Matsinkenyeri to deep midwicket. This began a wobble that saw England lose four wickets for 43 runs, before Pietersen and Geraint Jones finished the job off.

"The guys were bound to be a bit nervous because it has been a strange week," admitted Vaughan. "But it was nice to be back playing and talking about cricket. We had a little hiccup towards the end, and the bowling could have been better at the start, but the guys responded well. The most important thing was that we won the game and we can now move on to Wednesday's. Bell is certainly one for the future. He is very composed at the crease and has a good array of shots. He is a player that we will see a lot of and is breathing down the necks of players in the Test squad."

Zimbabwe's innings was dominated by an 85-ball partnership of 82 between Elton Chigumbura and Dion Ebrahim. They came together with their side perilously placed on 90 for 5. England were not having fun but this partnership made it an enjoyable day for the 2,500 spectators.

The reclassification of Ebrahim was one of the reasons allegations of racism were aimed at the then Zimbabwe Cricket Union. Like South Africa, Zimbabwe have a quota system, which states that a certain number of black players have to play in each match. Ebrahim - a Cape Coloured - was initially considered to be black, but in an effort to increase the number of black players in the side the ZCU reclassified him as white.

The 15 rebel players gain sympathy on such issues, but the talent of Chigumbura makes you realise what a complicated matter this is. The 18 year-old would probably still be waiting to play for Zimbabwe had the selectors not chosen him ahead of a disgruntled rebel, and he has already shown he is a far better player than some of those who felt they were hard done by. Unfortunately politics and Zimbabwe cricket are never far apart.