|Scorecard:||Australia v Zimbabwe|
A superb spell of pace bowling from Brad Williams destroyed Zimbabwe’s top-order batting at the Sydney Cricket Ground and played the major role in Australia’s victory by 99 runs after a mediocre batting performance.
No Australian batsman reached 50 as the team struggled for runs, the team eventually totalling 225 for eight. The pitch was not conducive to easy scoring, as the ball did not come on to the bat, but tight Zimbabwe bowling and superb fielding made it a fight all the way for the home side. But, if Zimbabwe thought they had victory in their sights, Williams made them think again. Zimbabwe were bowled out for 126, after being 17 for five at one stage, and Williams took five for 22 and a fine catch into the bargain.
One factor that should be noted is that Zimbabwe are always under a handicap when batting under lights, as day-night cricket is not possible in their own country in its present troubled state. Heath Streak must have been very disappointed then to lose the toss and hear Ricky Ponting choose first strike.
Nobody could have done more to lead his team from the front than Streak, who later rescued Zimbabwe from total disaster with the bat and whose 46 was actually the highest individual score of the game. He began with an immaculate spell with the new ball, conceding only six runs off his first five overs, with Matthew Hayden in particular able to do little more than keep him out.
Most of the runs came the other end, and Adam Gilchrist, who also began cautiously, broke the shackles by hitting Douglas Hondo for three fours in the sixth over of the innings. 42 were on the board as, with the first ball of his sixth over, Streak had Hayden playing the ball on to his stumps for a laboured 14 off 36 balls.
None of the Australian top order were able to dominate, although Gilchrist scored 34 off 44 balls. He earned more personal credit for walking when he edged Andy Blignaut to the keeper, Tatenda Taibu. But all the top order made starts without converting them to high scores, and the run rate further slowed when spinners Raymond Price and Grant Flower bowled in tandem.
Australia were looking none too happy at 118 for five, but the spinners sought to contain rather than dismiss, and batsmen Andrew Symonds (42) and Michael Clarke (40) were content to push the ball around almost exclusively for regular singles as they stabilized the innings with a stand of 66. In the end the result vindicated their approach, although the powerful Symonds actually failed to hit a single boundary in his 42.
Ian Harvey, in at the death, was the only batsman really able to dominate, if briefly, as he scored 22 off 17 balls. Price’s 10 overs cost just 34 runs, while Flower took two for 42 thanks to two good return catches. Streak chose Sean Ervine rather than Hondo or even Blignaut, who took two for 21 in five overs earlier on, to share the ‘death’ overs with him and the youngster did not let him down, finishing with three for 53.
All the time fine ground fielding by Zimbabwe ensured that runs were at a premium. They did miss a couple of catches and run-outs, though, but generally they back their bowlers superbly.
When they batted, they seemed to be following a frequently used policy: let the top order get out quickly so that the opposition becomes complacent, and then the lower middle order will come in and do the real run-scoring. Williams was fast and accurate, he got bounce and movement, while Jason Gillespie was also hostile.
It was too much for Zimbabwe’s top order, and some techniques were found wanting. Little depth in their domestic cricket and a staple diet of limited-over club cricket mean that batsmen back in Zimbabwe have little need to perfect their techniques, and so are unable to cope with high-class bowling from the other end.
Stuart Carlisle, back to opening the innings, was soon caught at slip for 1, off Williams, who then took a fine swirling boundary catch at long leg as Vusi Sibanda (7) tried to hook Gillespie for six. Williams moved the ball in viciously to trap Flower leg-before first ball, and Stuart Matsikenyeri was unable to cope, caught at the wicket also without scoring. When Mark Vermeulen was bowled through the gate for 5, Zimbabwe were 17 for five and virtually out of the game.
But Streak, were he not Zimbabwe’s bowling bulwark, would be the mainstay of their batting. He plays straight, is technically sound, and has a wide range of strokes and a fine temperament. Helped by Taibu, he set about rescuing the innings with a partnership of 73, which was to comprise more than half the innings total.
When Taibu edged Symonds to the keeper for 29, Ervine supported Streak with an aggressive 14. But the end then came quickly. Streak was unluckily dismissed, as a rebound off his pads went straight to the keeper, who stumped him for 46. Williams and Gillespie returned and the last four wickets emulated the first five, falling for seven runs.
Zimbabwe often start a series well, and would have done much better had it not been for the inspired form of Williams. Australia take an early lead in the VB Series, having won both matches played to date. However, they have looked fallible at times and at present are not the irresistible force they were a year or two back.
(Article: Copyright © 2004 John Ward)