Maturing Streak in a world of his own

Zimbabwe rediscover the feeling of winning while their premier paceman takes time-out before the real test
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The rain held off, and Zimbabwe raised their spirits a little by beating Yorkshire by 32 runs. It was not a famous victory against a much-weakened Yorkshire team on a vicious green-top at Headingley, but it was badly needed as a prelude to this week's Second Test.

The rain held off, and Zimbabwe raised their spirits a little by beating Yorkshire by 32 runs. It was not a famous victory against a much-weakened Yorkshire team on a vicious green-top at Headingley, but it was badly needed as a prelude to this week's Second Test.

Yorkshire were on £1,000 a man to win this Vodafone Challenge match, and needed only 180, which they seemed to take rather for granted when play began only 10 minutes late. Their optimism obscured the fact that the highest score in the game was 235, and the pitch had already deteriorated.

Within 30 minutes Yorkshire were 13 for 4, victims of a remarkable spell of bowling by Pommie Mbangwa, who took three wickets in a spell of eight overs for only 13 runs. He had already taken 6 for 14 in the first innings and was identified as the man of the match two hours before he grabbed Yorkshire's last wicket to finish with 4 for 39. His match figures of 10 for 53 were his career best.

The pattern was established when Mbangwa's second ball to David Byas bounced like a tennis ball and Murray Goodwin took an easy catch at short-leg. Although they did not exactly collapse after Mbangwa's opening spell, only one Yorkshire batsman consistently resisted the tide.

His name is Lumb, familiar inYorkshire, for whom his father, Richard, was a doughty professional in the Seventies and early Eighties. Matthew, who was born in Johannesburg, was making his first-class debut, and his fifty included 11 fours, four of them beautifully square driven. He was 66 when he ran out of partners.

Lumb was the only good news for Yorkshire on the day; for Zimbabwe there was not only a win to celebrate, but here was a win achieved without without benefit of Heath Streak.

Streak says he would rather have taken no wickets at Lord's and been on the winning side. Instead, he took 6 for 87 and was the one player who showed world class. Streak is the closest to celebrity a Zimbabwe player gets. Not yet on the pages of Hello!, but he did draw the numbers in the £50,000 draw at half-time in the Leeds v Wigan rugby league game at Headingley on Friday.

Streak is a burly six-footer, weighing in at 205lb, who played full-back for Zimbabwe's Under-19's, though he gave up rugby at 19, when Zimbabwe achieved Test status and he realised he could make a living as a professional cricketer.

Andy Flower, his captain, says that Streak was faster then. Now he bowls fast medium, around 80mph, and thinks he has developed as far as he ever will, pace-wise. The skill comes in control, and rhythm. He bowls wicket-to-wicket outswingers into the breeze, throwing in the unexpected delivery when he has lulled batsmen into thinking they know what to expect.

The model is Malcolm Marshall, so you know Streak aspires to top class, and the 14 balls to Graeme Hick when he was on 99 at Lord's showed he can rise to an occasion. He enjoyed the joust, and was especially glad that the crowd enjoyed it too - he was applauded at the end of each maiden over.

Perhaps Zimbabwe's crisis began in the West Indies when Streak, with match figures of 9 for 72, bowled his team to within 99 runs of victory at Port-of Spain. Although Zimbabwe lost by 36 runs, Streak does not complain about being let down by his batsmen - if he did, life would already have become unbearable. "We would dearly loved to have won," he says. But the defeat was like a virus attacking the team's morale, not least because the win- bonuses went uncollected, leaving their finances in parlous condition.

Streak's confidence swelled again at Lord's and he works with the new bowling coach Jeff Thomson - the demon Thommo - to feed it. Streak was well coached as a schoolboy and knows how to go on bowling straight when the rhythm is missing. The help Thommo gives him is mental, bolstering his belief that he knows how to get England's batsmen out, and can do it again. Zimbabwe's batsmen fear the groundsman will prepare a snorter for Darren Gough and Andrew Caddick to bowl on in the Second Test at Trent Bridge. If he does, England's batsmen may be in for a torrid time too.

Streak is 26, an age at which promising fast bowlers are maturing and becoming more accomplished. Streak's will is strong and his mind is receptive, but Flower fears that the body is vulnerable. It is not just the reckless enthusiasm with which he fields, Streak has to work hard to control his weight. Moreover, he is still recovering from a knee operation for worsening tendinitis. A couple of days off in Leeds were an opportunity for rehabilitation.

Zimbabwe is his country, but the state of the nation is in the back of his mind. Although, Streak is reluctant to offer hostages to fortune, conditions do seem to be improving. Clients are returning to the family safari business, and his father was confident enough about the farm outside Bulawayo to leave it watch his son at Lord's. Cricket is what is on the minds of Zimbabwe's players, and that gives them quite enough to worry about.

Streak says that you make your own luck, but Zimbabwe are getting plenty of interference from the weather gods and the schedulers. Andy Flower can't do anything about his principal cricketing problem either, which is the form of the batsmen, including himself. In need of practice, they got none at Headingley on Friday, when the ball moved extravagantly, and their 68 was the lowest score by a touring team against Yorkshire since the Indians got 66 in 1932.

In-form batsmen would have found it hard enough, but English early-season wickets have proved beyond the Zimbabweans' technique, especially after the wickets in the West Indies. Normally, the captain would rest a player like Alistair Campbell, who has scored 17 runs in his last five first-class innings, but Zimbabwe cricket lacks the depth of personnel. There are no substitutes. Flower needs Henry Olonga to balance Streak in the opening attack, but the question is whether Olonga prefers bowling to singing. "Who knows," says Flower sadly.

Flower's own form sags under the burden of too much responsibility: captain, opening bat, wicket-keeper. But he is reluctant to give his 17-year-old deputy keeper Tatendu Taibu his first Test cap. Streak admires Taibu's work, but says he still has to learn to concentrate, the hardest lesson of all for a young keeper. Flower fearsanother rout could seriously damage Taibu's confidence.

Confidence is the mystery ingredient, and it's missing. Except for Heath Streak, who has plenty of it. At the moment, Zimbabwe are a one-man team.

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