Just when we thought England couldn't do any worse...

144 lamentable minutes; 1.46pm: England go into bat after Zimbabwe make 249 for 7 in their allotted 50 overs; 4.14pm: England are all out for 118 in 30 overs. Five of their batsmen make ducks
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The Independent Online
There are, it seems, few avenues, other than winning a game, that this England team will not explore when they travel. This was their 12th successive limited-overs' loss overseas to Test-playing countries.

However, yesterday's capitulation, their third in a row to Zimbabwe, was one of their least culpable. The demise was expertly hastened by the free range chicken farmer, Eddo Brandes, who took his country's first hat-trick, finishing the match with 5 for 28.

On the evidence of the past month England have played some of the most imaginatively bereft cricket on the planet. Zimbabwe may only have 25 suitable cricketers to choose their national side from, but they are 25 motivated and thinking cricketers who work to a plan.

Strangely these are attributes their England counterparts seem to lack. Something England's attempts in the field neatly exemplified as Zimbabwe rattled up 249 for 7 off their 50 overs, as Alistair Campbell with an unbeaten 80, and Grant Flower with 62, took toll of some wayward bowling.

Such poor attention to basics has turned England into missionaries rather than conquerors. A role that was well served by a 3-0 whitewash in what is this country's most popular form of cricket. A whitewash that has done wonders for the interest levels of the black African population, who tend to prefer football.

The philanthropy is, of course, unintended, though you begin to wonder after hearing some of David Lloyd's utterances on this tour, of which the more memorable have nearly always come back to haunt him. The coach's latest offering being that: "The second leg of this tour starts with this last game not in New Zealand."

A day later he had to admit the second leg had not started well. "There were things in Zimbabwe's play that were not in ours."

Brandes was certainly one of them, and he got much more from the conditions than any of England's bowlers.

Swinging the ball away as well as moving it occasionally off the pitch, Brandes bowled a full wicket-taking length that forced the batsman to play. It was a length not often matched by England's bowlers - though Mullally again bowled well - after Mike Atherton had won the toss and put Zimbabwe in.

Bustling in up the slope from the City End, Brandes had the first of his hat-trick victims, Nick Knight, caught down the leg-side in his second over. "It was a pretty bad ball," he admitted, "but Knight seemed to jump at it and get a touch."

He wasn't the only one jumping as John Crawley went lbw first ball of Brandes' next over after missing a straight one that he tried to work to leg. It was one of five ducks - three of them first ball - that littered the England scorecard.

During the Test matches the 33-year-old Brandes had bowled well without reward. But if he was frustrated by it his next ball was worth all the near misses when a perfectly pitched outswinger found the edge of Nasser Hussain's bat. A delivery described by the bowler as "a magnificent jaffa" and one that a batsman's only real hope of surviving so early on, is to miss.

It was a great moment for Brandes who celebrated only the 10th hat-trick in one-day internationals with a barrel-chested chicken strut down the pitch towards Andy Flower. His keeper had just managed to pull off an extraordinary diving catch in front of Campbell at first slip, the best of five safely pouched catches, including those of Atherton and Alec Stewart.

Brandes took four England wickets in Albury, when Zimbabwe beat England in a 1991/92 World Cup qualifier. On that occasion, the loss was shrugged off as an aberration. Now it as become a serious habit and one that John Emburey, the assistant coach, believes can become difficult to shake off. As if to emphasise the point, this was Zimbabwe's 10th one-day win out of 65, five of those wins coming against England.

England have simply been outwitted and outclassed by a side just learning to walk, a disappointment that Atherton denied he would run away from by resigning the captaincy. "There are two options for me and the team," he said. "To give up or to fight on.

I don't see any point in either of us giving up."

It was a point echoed by Lloyd, who backed Atherton, saying he was, "a very caring captain who looked after his team and who deserved the support of everyone".

England's malaise is not Atherton's fault, though he and his men have not enjoyed touring this country which, apart from being put firmly on the cricketing map, has raised serious questions over the standards and resilience of English cricket at all levels.

It is a moribund state of affairs that can be firmly attributed to a system which breeds predictable and uncompetitive players in an age when flair and vitality, have usurped the traditional havens offered by playing percentages.

The panacea is not an easy one unless you are prepared to take the straightforward but contentious advice yelled by a drunken reveller after Zimbabwe's crushing victory. "Send England home," he bellowed, "and bring out the wives."

England won toss

ZIMBABWE

G W Flower c Mullally b White 62

(123 min, 87 balls, 6 fours)

A C Waller run out (Atherton-Stewart) 19

(64 min, 41 balls, 1 four)

*A D R Campbell not out 80

(146 min, 103 balls, 4 fours, 1 six)

A Flower c Stewart b Irani 35

(37 min, 30 balls, 3 fours, 1 six)

C N Evans c Stewart b Gough 1

(4 min, 5 balls)

G J Whittall b Croft 1

(5 min, 4 balls)

D L Houghton c Stewart b Mullally 19

(23 min, 22 balls, 2 sixes)

P A Strang run out (White) 13

(12 min, 10 balls, 1 fours, 1 six)

Extras (b4, lb5, w8, nb2) 19

Total (for 7, 211 min, 50 overs) 249

Fall: 1-58 (Waller), 2-131 (G W Flower), 3-181 (A Flower), 4-183 (Evans), 5-190 (Whittall), 6-220 (Houghton), 7-249 (Strang).

Did not bat: H H Streak, E A Brandes, J A Rennie.

Bowling: Mullally 10-3-39-1 (w2) (8-3-23-0, 2-0-16-1); Gough 10-1-42- 1 (nb2, w2) (4-0-19-0, 2-0-14-0, 4-1-9-1); Silverwood 5-0-27-0 (w2) (one spell); White 7-0-39-1 (w1) (2-0-9-0, 3-0-15-1, 2-0-15-0); Irani 10-0- 39-1 (w1) (one spell); Croft 8-0-54-1 (2-0-17-0, 6-0-37-1).

Progress: 50: 58 min, 83 balls. 100: 100 min, 136 balls. 150: 140 min, 199 balls. 200: 186 min, 267 balls.

G Flower's 50: 93 min, 67 balls, 6 fours.

Campbell's 50: 91 min, 67 balls, 4 fours.

ENGLAND

N V Knight c A Flower b Brandes 3

(13 min, 8 balls)

A J Stewart c A Flower b Brandes 29

(70 min, 49 balls, 2 fours)

J P Crawley lbw b Brandes 0

(4 min, 1 ball)

N Hussain c A Flower b Brandes 0

(2 min, 1 ball)

*M A Atherton c A Flower b Brandes 18

(60 min, 43 balls, 1 four)

R C Irani c Whittall b Streak 0

(16 min, 6 balls)

C White c A Flower b Streak 0

(15 min, 6 balls)

R D B Croft not out 30

(59 min, 37 balls, 1 four, 1 six)

D Gough c Streak b Strang 7

(14 min, 8 balls, 1 four)

A D Mullally b Whittall 20

(32 min, 23 balls, 2 fours, 1 six)

C E W Silverwood c Evans b Whittall 0

(1 min, 1 ball)

Extras (w8, nb3) 11

Total (148 min, 30 overs) 118

Fall: 1-9 (Knight), 2-13 (Crawley), 3-13 (Hussain), 4-45 (Stewart), 5- 54 (Atherton), 6-55 (Irani), 7-63 (White), 8-77 (Gough), 9-118 (Mullally).

Bowling: Brandes 10-0-28-5 (w1); Rennie 3-0-11-0; Streak 10-0-50-2 (nb3, w6); Strang 5-0-18-1 (w1); Whittall 2-0-11-2 (one spell each).

Progress: 50: 79 min, 99 balls. 100: 132 min, 161 balls.

Umpires: I D Robinson and R B Tiffin.

England's lowest one-day totals

93 v Australia (Headingley) 1975

94 v Australia (Headingley) 1979

114 v West Indies (Bridgetown)1986

115 v South Africa (East London)1996

118 v Zimbabwe (Harare) 1997

122 v Pakistan (Lahore) 1978

125 v West Indies (Arnos Vale)1981

125 v Zimbabwe (Albury) 1992

127 v N Zealand (Christchurch) 1983

132 v Pakistan (Sharjah) 1985

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