England tour lurches into disaster zone

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England 197 & 180 Mashonaland 280 & 98-3 Mashonaland win by 7 wkts

England's tour of Zimbabwe reached an early crisis point here yesterday as the humiliating seven-wicket defeat against Mashonaland brought into sharp focus the huge problems facing the team.

This winter's tour of Zimbabwe and New Zealand is intended to produce and forge a side capable of taking the Ashes back from Australia next summer. But, 10 days into the trip, two matches have been lost and almost everything has gone wrong for an England side short on confidence and inspiration and arguably denied proper preparation time by the tour planners at Lord's.

The opening four-day fixture finished a day early because England proved unable to build a decent total - not once but twice. Their bowling resources currently seem slim, too, and England now have only a one-day and a four- day fixture with Matabeleland next week in which to warm up for the international matches against Zimbabwe.

Mike Atherton, the England captain, admitted last night that his team are still "pretty rusty" but he refused to accept that, with hindsight, his players could have done with more cricket preparation before the tour and also more time to acclimatise to the heat and altitude of Zimbabwe.

During a week-long trip to Portugal in early November the England players did not do any batting or bowling practise - with Atherton and the England management insisting that they would be a better and more consistent side in the long run if they were first to improve their basic fitness levels.

Ironically, Atherton's own fitness has been compromised early on by illness and now by back worries - but the 28-year-old Lancashire batsman's main priority now must be to pick his side up after such a poor performance. Mashonaland 1996 will now take its place alongside the many other recent England cricketing embarrassments - although Atherton was quick and quite correct to point out that the Zimbabwean provincial side featured six Test players and were not "just amateurs and chicken farmers, as some sections of the media are suggesting."

The only England players to gain anything from the match were the spinners, Phil Tufnell and Robert Croft, and the batsman John Crawley, whose 74 yesterday at least gave England hope at one stage of being able to set Mashonaland some sort of target. Crawley's only mistake was to try to hit Gary Brent over mid-off in the last over before tea - a soft end to a 165-ball innings that had included a six and five fours.

England's top-order batting is desperately short of runs, with Atherton and Nick Knight particularly starved with just nine and 16 runs from three innings respectively. "There are lots of things to be worked on and at the moment we need as much cricket as we can get," the captain said. The Mashonaland team rejected an England request for a one-day match today, however, and now Atherton's squad will have a full-scale practice match at the nearby Alexandre Sports Ground in Harare.

England A win again, page 31

Harare Sports Club scoreboard

Third day of four; England won toss

ENGLAND - First Innings 197 (R D B Croft 80no; R J Kirtley 5-53).

MASHONALAND - First Innings

Overnight: 279 for 9

D Matambanadzo not out 3

R J Kirtley lbw b Tufnell 2

Extras (lb6, nb7) 13

Total (85.4 overs) 280

Bowling: Mullally 12-2-42-0; Gough 16-3-43-1; Caddick 10-2-46-0; Tufnell 25.4-7-78-5; Croft 22-4-65-4.

ENGLAND - Second Innings

N V Knight c D Campbell b Kirtley 3

*M A Atherton c D Campbell b Brent 7

A J Stewart b Kirtley 0

N Hussain lbw b P Strang 39

G P Thorpe c D Campbell b Brent 2

J P Crawley c Matambanadzo b Brent 74

R D B Croft b P Strang 3

D Gough b P Strang 12

A R Caddick c A Campbell b P Strang 28

A D Mullally c & b Brent 2

P C R Tufnell not out 2

Extras (lb6, nb2) 8

Total (71.1 overs) 180

Fall: 1-4, 2-4, 3-27, 4-29, 5-105, 6-111, 7-137, 8-159, 9-167.

Bowling: Kirtley 16-6-35-2; B C Strang 11-5-18-0; Brent 10-3-22-4; P A Strang 23.1-6-56-4; Flower 11-2-43-0.

MASHONALAND - Second Innings

G W Flower c Crawley b Mullally 2

S V Carlisle b Mullally 3

*A D R Campbell not out 53

D L Houghton c Gough b Thorpe 34

C B Wishart not out 0

Extras (lb5, nb1) 6

Total (for 3, 25.3 overs) 98

Fall: 1-6, 2-11, 3-95.

Did not bat: D J R Campbell, D Matambanadzo, P A Strang, B C Strang, G B Brent, R J Kirtley.

Bowling: Mullally 6-1-18-2; Gough 3-0-14-0; Tufnell 9-1-35-0; Croft 6.3- 0-23-0; Thorpe 1-0-3-1.

Umpires: K Kanjee and D Kalan.

MASHONALAND WON BY 7 WICKETS

ENGLAND'S NEXT TWO FIXTURES: Sunday: One-day match v Matabeleland (at Queen's Club, Bulawayo). 10-13 Dec: Three-day match v Matabeleland (at Queen's Club, Bulawayo).

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