Solanki lets Zimbabwe off the hook

Worcestershire 262 Zimbabwe 69-3
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The Independent Online

It is not the sort of form that will get Nasser Hussain and the England selectors fretting just yet, but Zimbabwe will be quietly encouraged by the way their tour of the British Isles is progressing. After a comprehensive victory over the British Universities last weekend, a near full-strength Worcestershire side – only Graeme Hick and Nantie Haywood were absent – were expected to give everyone a truer reflection of how these inexperienced visitors will fare this summer.

It is not the sort of form that will get Nasser Hussain and the England selectors fretting just yet, but Zimbabwe will be quietly encouraged by the way their tour of the British Isles is progressing. After a comprehensive victory over the British Universities last weekend, a near full-strength Worcestershire side – only Graeme Hick and Nantie Haywood were absent – were expected to give everyone a truer reflection of how these inexperienced visitors will fare this summer.

At lunch, not very well appeared to be the answer. Heath Streak, the Zimbabwe captain, had been forced off the field with a back spasm, which appears certain to rule him out of this match and make him a doubt for the first Test which begins in 13 days' time, and the bowling was poor. However, Zimbabwe showed resilience and character as they fought back into the game. Their cricket may not be spectacular but it was disciplined and good enough for Worcestershire, who threw away a wonderful position by losing their last eight wickets for 92 runs.

The collapse began when Vikram Solanki perished attempting to hit the left-arm spin of Ray Price into the grounds of Worcester cathedral. Until this rush of blood Solanki, who on Wednesday had scored 164 here in the Cheltenham and Gloucester Trophy against the Worcestershire Cricket Board, had looked in excellent form. The gifted right-hander had peppered the boundary boards with an array of quality strokes, his half-century coming off 45 balls and containing nine fours as well as cut for six over third man.

The 27-year-old took a particular liking to the consistently wayward Travis Friend. Bowling from the Diglis End, which is due to be redeveloped at the cost of £550,000 during the close season, Friend seemed more concerned with testing out the middle of the pitch rather than the fuller length which was offering assistance to both seamers and spinners. Thirteen were struck off his first over and by the time Friend was withdrawn by his 19-year-old stand-in captain, Tatenda Taibu, 43 runs had been struck off his first four overs. At lunch Worcestershire had raced to 155 for 2.

Then Solanki highlighted just why he is yet to go on to bigger things with his wild slog at Price. Even though it took a further 11 overs for Worcestershire's innings to fall apart, this transgression was the catalyst.

It was Douglas Hondo, with his honest medium pace, who created havoc when he struck three times in the 42nd over. Kabir Ali and the Worcestershire captain, Ben Smith, fell to the first and fourth balls of the over when they edged balls on off stump but Gareth Batty's dismissal to the very next ball was as emphatic as they come. He had his middle stump removed by a delivery of yorker length.

Andrew Hall, Worcestershire's South African overseas player, had some fun on his debut but the home dressing-room would have been dejected after wasting such a strong position. Worcestershire's bowlers went some way in making up for the batsmen by reducing Zimbabwe to 69 for 3 at the close.

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