The Rose Bowl in Southampton could not have looked better for its inaugural internat- ional fixture. Rod Bransgrove, the philanthropic chairman of Hampshire, must have purred with pleasure as he watched South Africa and Zimbabwe christen the stunning new ground that his millions have helped to build.
That the occasion was blessed with the hottest day of the summer suggests that his influence on the south coast is second to none. The only item missing on a scorching day in front of a healthy crowd was the sight of Michael Vaughan's team strutting their stuff. However, it can only be a matter of time before England visit the county.
In a match of little consequence - England and South Africa had already qualified for Saturday's NatWest Series final at Lord's - these African neighbours attempted to put on a worthy display, but failed. In a disappointingly one-sided contest South Africa romped to a seven-wicket victory with 14.4 overs still to be bowled.
For Zimbabwe this match signalled the end of their 10-week tour. It would probably be wrong to state that Heath Streak's side looked like a team who wanted to return home but on this occasion they gave the impression they would rather have been somewhere else.
The tour has been tough but the experience gained should serve them well. To turn several of Zimbabwe's talented young players into good international cricketers will take a lot of hard work but it is not out of the question providing they receive the support they require.
With tomorrow's final in mind, this match was the ideal warm-up for South Africa. The fast bowler Makhaya Ntini enjoyed his 10-over spell on a pitch which needs to improve if this ground is to host Test cricket. Graeme Smith and Jacques Rudolph spent valuable time in the middle.
Looking on from the side-lines, the surface would not have pleased the Zimbabwean coach Geoff Marsh, who has this week been critical of the pitches he has seen in England. The former Australian opener feels that playing on surfaces which offer exaggerated movement and uneven bounce will not help England's bowlers in the long term.
Marsh suggested the likes of James Anderson, Stephen Harmison and Matthew Hoggard will be exposed when they are overseas because they were brought up on helpful pitches and have not had to show the discipline required at this level.
Because his batsmen have struggled to cope with such conditions, Marsh's comments might be seen as sour grapes but his judgement is correct. However, it fails to explain the inability of his bowlers to make the most of similar surfaces.
After taking two early wickets, Zimbabwe would have fancied their chances of defending their total of 173 for 8. Smith and Rudolph had other ideas, however. The 22-year-old left-handers began hesitantly but as they settled, the runs started to flow. With the partnership on 137 Smith, the South African captain, fell looking for a quick kill and it was left to Mark Boucher to score the winning runs, clubbing Ray Price back over his head for four.
South Africa's victory will have helped to put a smile on the face of team-mate Nicky Boje, who fractured his left fibula in four places and ruptured ankle ligaments when he fell awkwardly at Edgbaston on Tuesday. The South African physio Shane Jabaar described it as the worst injury he had ever seen. The all-rounder had surgery which lasted two-and-a-half hours. Pins were inserted and Boje will be in plaster for at least two months.
Because of the severity of the injury Boje is not allowed to fly home for another week. Such problems will not stop Jacques Kallis and Shaun Pollock returning to South Africa for four days after Saturday's match. Kallis is returning to Cape Town to spend time with his father, who has lung cancer, whilst Pollock travels to Durban to see his pregnant wife. Both will miss South Africa's three-day match at Taunton but will be back in time to play India A at Arundel a week on Saturday.Reuse content