Zimbabwe come apart at the seams

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The Independent Online
Another world-class leg-spinner, Paul Strang, caused England uncomfortable problems on the third day, but Zimbabwe's support bowling was so bad that he did not collect his just reward.

In the last few years Shane Warne, Mushtaq Ahmed and Anil Kumble have all worked their magic against England and Strang yesterday showed that he is entitled to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any of them.

Sadly for Zimbabwe, England's batsmen knew that if they could survive against Strang they would be able to score more than enough runs at the other end. Heath Streak, the best of the other bowlers, did not seem fully fit and could get nothing out of this extremely slow pitch.

England scored 80 runs for the loss of one wicket in the morning session and were 128 for 1 at lunch. Zimbabwe badly needed a wicket early in the afternoon, but when play restarted their captain, Alistair Campbell, gave seamers Bryan Strang and Streak the first six overs off which 32 easy runs were scored.

He brought on Paul Strang for the seventh over and the folly of it all was cruelly underlined when, in his very first over, Alec Stewart was caught lbw sweeping. Campbell's thinking defied belief, for if a wicket had gone down to the leg-spinner immediately after lunch it would not be hard to imagine the worries in the England dressing-room.

When Graham Thorpe went to Strang soon after it looked as if he might go through the England side, but this did not allow for the skill and resolve of Nasser Hussain and John Crawley.

With an hour left and England on 261 for 4, Zimbabwe took the second new ball. The extra bounce might have helped Paul Strang but Campbell delayed giving him a bowl until a quarter of an hour remained. He had time for only three overs and, if he had come on earlier, he just might have played successfully on Hussain's or Crawley's nerves as they approached a hundred and a fifty respectively.

Strang's great misfortune of the day came before lunch when Hussain took the place of Nick Knight. Hussain pushed the spinner's first ball firmly through the hands of Stuart Carlisle at forward short-leg. It was a catch which would have been a great bonus if it had stuck, for it was not much more than a half-chance. But if it had been held who knows what might have happened?

The main lesson of the day for Zimbabwe was that it is no good having a top-class leg-spinner in your side if you do not give him his best chance of taking wickets. As this is only a two-match Test series there is little danger of over-bowling Strang.