England flatter to deceive yet again

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The Independent Online

In recent years, England have made a habit of winning the first Test in a home series which has usually prompted exuberant forecasts of better things to come. The almost invariable pattern after that has been that the touring side, stung by that initial defeat, have pulled themselves together.

In recent years, England have made a habit of winning the first Test in a home series which has usually prompted exuberant forecasts of better things to come. The almost invariable pattern after that has been that the touring side, stung by that initial defeat, have pulled themselves together.

If the first Test of the summer was always played at Lord's, England's record there would probably be much better. Their overwhelming defeat of Zimbabwe last month made the tourists put their minds to it and come up with a few pretty smart answers. They played the better cricket in this second Test and those of us who were impressed with England's efficiency in the first and felt it might be a poin-ter to the future, have been left scratching our heads.

In the first innings, after being put in, England were only saved from embarrassment by a fine innings from Mike Atherton. When England batted the ball swung and seamed; when Zimbabwe went in, admittedly in fresher weather, the ball went straight on. The pitch had not changed, the bowlers simply did not put it in the right place and they were hounded by some excellent batting.

Zimbabwe underlined their perceived superiority when they declared at the start of the fifth day effectively saying to England's batsmen: "make a game of it if you can". England had a lead of 89 and in their existing mood the Zimbabwean batsmen would undoubtedly have had a go if any target had been remotely possible.

As it happened, a combination of more excellent seam bowling and some bad batting came within measurable distance of giving Zimbabwe a remarkable victory. Maybe England's batsmen felt that a draw looked so certain that they left the sharp cutting edge of concentration in the pavilion.

It was unforgivable as there are several players who have much to do to cement their places. Another decent score to add to his 50 in the first innings could only have done Mark Ramprakash good. An over- ambitious drive prevented this. Nasser Hussain, who badly needs a score, should not have allowed himself to be defeated by "Psyche Nkala's" in-swing.

Graeme Hick can only live for so long on the memories of his hundred at Lord's and to make up for all those failures over the years, needs to seek consistency. With England95 for 5, it was important that he did not get out, but a wild drive without footwork edged the ball to the wicketkeeper. By then Andy Flintoff, whose highest Test score is still 42, had pushed with firm wrists and without footwork at Heath Streak's out-swinger and was caught behind. Flintoff must start producing soon.

Zimbabwe left Trent Bridge with their heads held high while England will tip-toe somewhat uneasily to Edgbaston for the first Test match against the West Indies on Thursday week.

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