One-day cricket and myself are strangers, so it was a pretty unfamiliar sensation to make my international debut in Bulawayo yesterday. It got to be odder still when Michael Vaughan asked me to bowl at the death of the Zimbabwe innings.
Bowling at the end of a limited-overs innings is one of the toughest tasks a bowler can face (OK, bowling to Brian Lara on a flat deck at Antigua is probably up there as well), and here I was, a bowler who knew next to nothing about bowling in a one-day match at any stage. In a seven-year professional career I had played all of 10 one-day matches before yesterday.
Eight of those were for Glamorgan, the other two were for England A on the tour of India earlier this year. It continues to be a mystery to me why my county have not given me more opportunities in the short game so far, and they have never really explained their thinking to me.
So it was that I lined up in Bulawayo yesterday. I was nervous, but not quite as apprehensive as I had been on my first Test appearance. I knew that I had to keep it straight but still try to take wickets - but then that always has to be my role as bowler.
Bizarrely, I felt a little jaded. Maybe I had overdone it in the nets on Friday when I worked up a head of steam. It was completely encouraging that the pitch turned out to be smashing for batting. On Friday it had looked green, which had given us bowlers reason to hope for some movement. Then the groundsman shaved off every blade of grass before the match. Sneaky!
I was moderately pleased with how it went. The ball that gave me my first one-day international wicket - there had only been four in all previously - was a pretty good nut. It is true that Brendan Taylor, Zimbabwe's opener, might have been a bit stuck in his crease, but the ball was on off stump and had to be played.
One of my overs, it is true, yielded eight runs. That puts you under a bit of pressure the next over. But I have been working pretty hard in the nets with Duncan Fletcher, Matthew Maynard and Darren Gough. I was much more confident of my accuracy than I would have been even two years ago when I made my Test debut. Goughie, who was rested for the game to give me an opportunity, is always there with decent advice, and after I had bowled the last over he gave me a hint I shall remember.
The last ball of the innings was driven for four, and England's leading one-day wicket-taker advised me that it would have been better to bowl a bouncer rather than an attempted yorker.
This was an invaluable work-out, and while it was significant because it was my England one-day debut, it could also have a bearing on my future on this tour. Bowling in the middle is always more useful than bowling in the nets.
Enough about me. England played as clinically as we were expected to do. Zimbabwe put up a serviceable total and at the start of the innings they batted pretty well, taking a risk-free approach. Stuart Matsikenyeri particularly caught the eye, as Elton Chigumbura had done in the first match of the series. He was able to trust the pitch and hit through the line of the ball.
Our fielding stopped them from going on to something more impressive than their eventual total of 238. We had managed quite a few direct hits before we got two run-outs in the middle of the innings. True, the Zimbabwe batsmen contributed to their own dismissals, but this was also reward for the work that the coach has insisted we put in. In fact, Zimbabwe have acquitted themselves pretty well, even though they are 3-0 down in the series with a game to play.
It has been said (repeatedly said, actually) that the Zimbabwe team are suffering from inexperience, but in truth their total of caps for yesterday's match came to 321 while England's was 280. And nobody could have been as wet behind the ears as me.
Flat pitch or not, Vikram Solanki's innings was a special effort, showing the cleanest of strikers in all his glory. He got it in his mind to step down the wicket to the seamers and, believe me, that rattles you. I would have hated it if someone had done it to me.
I have been selected for today's final match. We want to win 4-0, then go on to the big business of the winter in South Africa.Reuse content