Zimbabwe anxious to make up lost time

Alas no Warne, but impressive half-centuries from Goodwin and Campbell help lift the tourists' spirits
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Zimbabwe are here at last. They have been a long time a'coming, for it is eight years and 41 Tests since they were granted entry to the brotherhood of senior cricket nations. Only two of those games have been against England, neither of them on these shores.

Zimbabwe are here at last. They have been a long time a'coming, for it is eight years and 41 Tests since they were granted entry to the brotherhood of senior cricket nations. Only two of those games have been against England, neither of them on these shores.

England voted against their elevation and were not exactly keen to compensate for the oversight in inviting them over for a Test and a yarn over a beer or two. There was an ill-fated visit there three years ago which gave cricket a phrase which will endure for as long as the game is played.

"We flippin' murdered 'em," said David Lloyd famously and misguidedly when "They were better, we were awful and nearly flippin' shot ourselves in the feet" would have been nearer the truth (though it would not have made as resonant a title for his forthcoming book). Another visit three months ago, for a series of uninspiring one-dayers, mended some fences.

Zimbabwe were in this country for the World Cup last year but at last they are undertaking something approaching a proper tour. They will play two Tests, one at Lord's, and take part in the first triangular one-day tourney of its type to be held here.

It is highly unlikely that they will be a memorable side (or even that they will beat England either in a Test or enough one-dayers to count) but they will make many friends. Their ranks are replete with journeymen cricketers but this in itself is remarkable considering how many, or how few, they are picking from.

The initial part of their tour has had dark shadows cast over it from two different directions. Deep political unrest in Zimbabwe, which is far from over, and the match-rigging scandal have deflected attentions from mere cricket.

But that is what they are here for and that, said their admirable captain Andy Flower yesterday, is what they will concentrate on. To compete, he knows they must be detached.

Their batting, notoriously brittle as exemplified in failing to chase 93 to win in a Test match against West Indies only a month ago, may be under constant pressure, especially on the sort of seaming pitches likely to afflict them at this part of the season.

The brittleness and the seaming both had an early outing yesterday. It was hardly an achingly beautiful day but it was thoroughly pleasant. The sun shone early, there was no breeze. Play didn't start until 1.30pm because of the gathering of water at one end.

Zimbabwe resumed at 19 for 1 with Trevor Gripper and Murray Goodwin at the crease. Gripper was plucked from obscurity last winter, which is not a difficult task to perform in Zimbabwe where cricketers are concerned, to open their innings in Test matches. He has a sound, distinctly unflashy technique in which strokes appear to be frowned upon as unwanted intruders on the serious business of staying in.

Goodwin, who completed his apprenticeship as a cricketer in Perth, is much more positive. There is an Australian expansiveness about him. Gripper was put down early on at third slip on the drive but this sort of thing will disturb him only as much as a feather on a rock face. He is here to adhere and adhere he jolly well will.

Goodwin made much better progress. His half-century was full of pleasant strokes, none more so than the five he played in one over off Simon Francis, all of which produced boundaries. There were two off drives, two fierce square cuts and a handsome pull.

It seemed to defy belief that their century partnership and Zimbabwe's progress should be arrested by Charlie van der Gucht, a left-arm spinner and student at Durham University, these days the cricketers' seat of further learning. Van der Gucht gave the ball some flight and if his direction was a tad awry it did not seem to matter.

He took his first three wickets in first-class cricket, all to attacking shots. They were all batsmen's errors but bowlers, the young man will know, cause these. If he has a foreign- sounding name he has a long English cricket pedigree. His grandfather, P I van der Gucht, played for Gloucestershire in the early Thirties and later for Bengal, where it is unknown whether he came across any illegal bookies.

Gripper perished after 148 minutes in which he made 24, flashing to gully. Goodwin pulled him hard to midwicket's midriff, Stuart Carlisle miscued a drive to mid-off. Good for Van der Gucht, but his inclusion in the Hampshire side was symptomatic of how seriously they took the match despite prize money from sponsors Vodafone of £11,000 for winning.

Neither Shane Warne, who has persuaded 900 new members to sign up, nor the other new man, Alan Mullally, were playing. Peter Hartley and Shaun Udal were also out. Their attack was thoroughly second-string, and Zimbabwe would have wished to make more progress. From 104 for 1 they went to 139 for 5.

Alistair Campell fashioned some neat drives, something he has been doing too rarely in internationals lately. But maybe he has been saving himself for this moment in England.

Flower said three places are probably up for grabs for the First Test, which begins two weeks on Thursday, one each for a batsman, a bowler and an all-rounder. He will resume wicketkeeping duties from his deputy Tatenda Taibu (his first name means thank you in Shona).

Taibu will be given as much cricket as possible early. He is only 16 and will have to leave the tour to start his school term. And to think that some of his team-mates have waited years for this.