Solanki eases tension before Zimbabwe visit

<preform>England 220-3<BR> Namibia 219-8<BR> England win by 7 wickets</preform>
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The Independent Online

Vikram Solanki's majestic innings of 82 provided England's one-day squad with a pleasant distraction on the eve of their controversial tour of Zimbabwe. Michael Vaughan's team are due to arrive in Harare this evening, on a visit that will see them play five limited-over matches, and, before this performance, Solanki's position in the team may have been in question.

Vikram Solanki's majestic innings of 82 provided England's one-day squad with a pleasant distraction on the eve of their controversial tour of Zimbabwe. Michael Vaughan's team are due to arrive in Harare this evening, on a visit that will see them play five limited-over matches, and, before this performance, Solanki's position in the team may have been in question.

Ian Bell, the highly-rated Warwickshire player, is one of the young batsmen putting Solanki under pressure and he increased his chances of playing in tomorrow's first one-dayer against Zimbabwe with a stylish innings of 51. Together this pair put on 110 runs for the first wicket, a partnership which enabled England to breeze past Namibia's total of 219 for the loss of only three wickets.

This comfortable victory was achieved without the services of Vaughan, Andrew Strauss and Darren Gough, who were all rested. Ashley Giles captained an England side for the first time and had a bucket of iced-water ceremoniously dumped on his head following the victory.

Solanki is becoming something of an enigmatic figure at the top of England's one-day batting order. The Worcestershire captain is a gifted batsmen. He has a wonderful array of strokes and when he bats as he did yesterday one wonders why anybody should ever doubt his place in the side.

The 28 year old has looked equally impressive against bowling attacks far stronger than Namibia's, but to date there have been too many occasions when he has got himself whilst playing a rash shot. This is why his England one-day average is only 22.92.

But there are signs which suggest he is beginning to learn from the mistakes he made earlier in his career. Solanki scored more than 1,000 runs in one-day cricket last summer and he now bats in a far more controlled manner during the early stages of his innings.

And it was this approach which brought him success in the second of England's two warm-up games at the Wanderers Ground, on the outskirts of the Namibian capital. The crowd was small, in comparison to Sunday's full-house, but the 500 spectators were treated to an explosive display once Solanki reached 50.

Reaching this landmark was the signal for the right-hander to open his shoulders and have some fun. Solanki reached his half century off 61 balls but then preceded to smash 32 off the next 15 deliveries he faced.

Deon Kotze, the Namibian captain, took the brunt of Solanki's onslaught and his gentle off-spin was struck over the ropes on three occasions. One of these sixes landed on the roof of an old railway carriage, which acts as a bar at one end of the ground.

Solanki's aggression eventually led to his downfall, but by the time he was stumped England had all but won the game.

Despite being bowled for nought on Sunday, Bell was the more positive of the two to begin with. The 22-year-old got off the mark with a lovely back- foot punch through backward point for four and then proceeded to play several sumptuous drives down the ground. The right-hander's 50 came up off 70 balls, but he lost his wicket when he top-edged a reverse sweep.

The departure of this pair gave Matthew Prior the chance to stake a claim, but he chipped a simple catch to mid-on when the total was 157. The loss of another quick wicket could have caused a bit of panic in the England dressing-room, but Geraint Jones and Kevin Pietersen saw their side home with 6.1 overs remaining.

James Anderson took three wickets during the Namibian innings, but England's bowlers still looked rusty. The Lancashire seamer dismissed Jan-Berrie Burger, Namibia's best batsman, in the first over of the match, but still bowled too many loose balls. Alex Wharf came back strongly after receiving stick in the first match, and but for a final over which conceded 13 runs, would have the most impressive figures.

That Namibia were able to post a competitive total was largely down to the batting of Gerrie Snyman. The right-hander also opens the bowling for his country and is one of several decent cricketers in this improving side.

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