Novice humbles hapless England

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Cricket

England 175-9 v Mashonaland

England's unconvincing start to their tour of Zimbabwe continued yesterday when their top order disintegrated against Mashonaland. Only a defiant 66 not out from Robert Croft enabled the tourists to finish a weather- interrupted first day here on 175 for 9. This represented something of a recovery given that earlier in the day they had been 7 for 3, and 94 for 7.

Having seen his side lose to the President's XI on Sunday, David Lloyd's patience is understandably wearing thin. "Good players playing poorly," was the England coach's reaction to another very disappointing day for England.

It will not have helped Lloyd's mood that much of the damage was inflicted by an Englishman. Sussex's James Kirtley, a 21-year-old playing only his 11th first-class game, took 4 for 44. Lloyd praised Kirtley's effort, but added: "Overall, they have a very ordinary bowling attack and I expect our performances to improve, and to improve quick.

"We were too tentative and we should be dominating more. Croft was the only one today who looked to do that. Kirtley has always impressed me. I picked him for the TCCB XI against South Africa A last August when he took eight wickets and helped win the match. But our batsmen are far better players than that and we have to start hitting our straps soon.

"You can't disguise we had a poor batting day. I'm not worried by it, though. We had two gormless run-outs and that's just annoying. "

England badly needed a good day to their opening four-day fixture after Sunday's one-day defeat. What they got instead was an embarrassment to rank alongside some of the many below-par England performances of recent memory.

Kirtley has been in Zimbabwe since October and for the past week has been helping England prepare by taking a full part in practice sessions. Today, swinging the ball significantly, he removed Mike Atherton and Nasser Hussain in his new-ball burst and then returned after a session was lost to rain to earn himself two further scalps.

He said: "I have mixed feelings, to be honest. I wanted to do well for myself, but when the Tests and one-dayers against Zimbabwe start there will only be one team that I will be supporting, and that's England.

"I've enjoyed helping England out over the past week and I'm very pleased to have dismissed the England captain. But I would have been just as happy about that if he'd got 100."

Kirtley, a late replacement for the injured Eddo Brandes, last week marked his debut for Mashonaland by taking a hat-trick and having figures of 5 for 56. Today he would have finished with another five-wicket haul but for dropped catches when Phil Tufnell had yet to score and with Croft on 49.

Kirtley could even have had Atherton for a first-ball duck as England's out-of-sorts captain survived a big lbw shout, ran the next ball down to third man for two, but then nicked the third delivery he faced to the wicketkeeper, Donald Campbell.

Alec Stewart chopped into his stumps against Bryan Strang when trying to withdraw his bat in the next over, and England were suddenly 7 for 3 when Hussain did exactly the same thing to Kirtley in his next over.

Nick Knight then ran himself out by charging back for an ill-advised third run and being sent back by Graham Thorpe, while John Crawley spoilt a composed 25 when he too was responsible for his own run-out.

By this time Thorpe had carved to point after scoring 35 and Crawley, dabbing the ball out on the off side, perished to a fine piece of fielding from Paul Strang after setting off for a suicidal single that was quite correctly refused by Croft.

Andy Caddick did at least offer some support to Croft, who then accelerated past a valuable half- century after seeing Tufnell dropped at second slip. Croft hooked and drove Bryan Strang for four and six from successive balls and had scored 21 runs from two overs when, somewhat incongruously, he accepted the offer of an early finish because of poor light.

First day of four; England won toss

ENGLAND - First Innings

N V Knight run out 6

*M A Atherton c D J R Campbell b Kirtley 2

A J Stewart b B C Strang 1

N Hussain b Kirtley 2

G P Thorpe c Houghton b Matambanadzo 35

J P Crawley run out 25

R D B Croft not out 66

D Gough c D J R Campbell b Kirtley 2

A R Caddick c D J R Campbell b Brent 19

A D Mullally c Brent b Kirtley 3

P C R Tufnell not out 1

Extras (lb4, w3, nb6) 13

Total (for 9, 62 overs) 175

Fall: 1-3, 2-4, 3-7, 4-27, 5-63, 6-88, 7-94, 8-125, 9-145.

MASHONALAND: D L Houghton, S V Carlisle, G W Flower, *A D R Campbell, D J R Campbell, C B Wishart, D Matambanadzo, P A Strang, B C Strang, G B Brent, R J Kirtley.

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