|Scorecard:||Australia v Zimbabwe|
Things are never so bad that they can’t get worse. Zimbabwe discovered this discouraging fact as they experienced their worst day of three bad ones so far in the VB Series in Australia, going down to the home country by 148 runs at Hobart.
The Australians were far too good for a struggling team playing well below top form. When Adam Gilchrist gets going, the best bowling attack in the world may be rendered helpless, so Zimbabwe had no chance. Gilchrist has not done particularly well off Zimbabwean bowling in the past, but he made up for it now with a magnificent 172, the undoubted highlight of the match. He gave his team such an advantage that Zimbabwe could not have won the match had he bowled at both ends throughout their innings.
After gaining admiration for their ground fielding in the first two matches, Zimbabwe had a bad day. Besides missing catches and run-outs, they had too many fumbles and overthrows in the field. Their bowling was variable, their top-order batting pathetic once again, and their middle order, despite saving the innings yet again, once again did not use their resources well. The team has twice been heavily defeated, and on neither occasion did Andy Blignaut even reach the wicket.
Only in the first few overs of the match did Zimbabwe look likely to compete. Heath Streak and Douglas Hondo began quite well, tying down the batsmen and having a couple of close lbw appeals turned down. With the umpires, as so often, on the side of the big battalions, Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden settled in and then started to use their weapons of mass destruction.
Crucially, Gilchrist was dropped in the forties by Hondo, running in to attempt a catch in the deep. Hondo has been found wanting as far as catches are concerned in the past, and it is time he worked hard enough to put this weakness to rights. He certainly cost his team a great many runs on this occasion, as the batsmen hammered away to the tune of six runs an over.
The opening stand realized 140 before, in the 23rd over, Hayden (63) misjudged a slower ball from Streak and gave Vusi Sibanda a sharp catch at midwicket. But there was no respite for the tourists as Ricky Ponting, playing on his home ground, strode in and added 106 with Gilchrist in 15 overs – seven an over. When Streak brought on Stuart Matsikenyeri to bowl his occasion off-breaks, the gamble failed: he went for 17 in his solitary over.
Next over, though, Ponting fell for 37, victim to the far more experienced Grant Flower, who had him mistime a drive to wide mid-off, where Matsikenyeri could take the catch. This was Flower’s 100th wicket in one-day internationals, second only to Streak among Zimbabweans.
Gilchrist eventually fell for 172, one short of the Australian record held by Mark Waugh. Against Zimbabwe, it has been exceeded only by Kapil Dev’s miraculous 175 not out in the World Cup of 1983. He hit 13 fours and three sixes off 126 balls, and his innings contained not only the usual brutal boundaries but also numerous well-placed ones and twos. He was bowled by Sean Ervine, trying to swing a full-length delivery to the midwicket boundary.
Finally, now it was too late, Zimbabwe fought back, thanks mainly to some fine bowling at the death by Ervine and Streak. Andrew Symonds, hesitating, was run out first ball by a throw from Matsikenyeri from near square leg, and shortly afterwards Michael Bevan (7) skyed a big leg hit off Ervine, for Streak to take a good catch at midwicket looking into the sun.
Michael Clarke holed out to long-on, and then Bichel was yorked, both by Streak and both first ball. It seemed incredible that an innings of this size should contain three first-ball ducks. Damian Martyn was unbeaten with 47 at the end and Brad Hogg with 6. Thanks to this good late bowling, Australia narrowly failed to reach the 350 that had always looked likely for them. Streak finished with three for 50, the most economical bowler, and Ervine took two for 65.
Zimbabwe’s top order again proved quite incompetent. That the Australian bowling was good goes without saying, but it was not inspired. First out was Sibanda, caught at the wicket slashing at Brett Lee. Mark Vermeulen, who has faded badly, perhaps with his lack of footwork exposed by the opposition, also edged to the keeper, Brad Williams taking his wicket.
Dion Ebrahim, playing his first match of the tour as he replaced Craig Wishart, battled gamely for his 21 before becoming Gilchrist’s third victim, Symonds the bowler this time as he bottom-edged a pull – but he has never looked like a one-day player at top level. Ervine was wisely promoted to five in the order, but made only 8 before he miscued a pull off Hogg.
Once again Streak had to come to the rescue. He and Flower were batting usefully in partnership until Streak changed a call for a quick single with Flower committed and halfway down the pitch, the unfortunate Flower being run out for 40. Zimbabwe were 93 for five.
On the face of it, things went much better after that. Tatenda Taibu came in and shared a partnership of 102 with Streak, only falling in the last over for 44. Streak went on to another fifty, finishing unbeaten on 64, and Zimbabwe finished with 196 for six. But they had lost by 148 runs and still had four wickets in hand.
Harsh though it may seem to criticize a man who is doing everything for his team except change their nappies, I was disappointed with Streak’s innings. I felt that by the time he reached the thirties and had done his job of stabilizing the innings, he should have taken stock and come up with two aims. The first would be to reduce the margin of defeat to as small a figure as possible, and the second would be to look for a one-day century for himself – he may well never have a better chance. If he failed, there was still plenty of batting to come – including Blignaut.
He did neither. 64 off 82 balls sounds brisk, but he is capable of a much higher rate of scoring. He hit Symonds for two massive leg-side sixes to show this, but never tried to make a habit of it. As a result, Blignaut never reached the wicket and Matsikenyeri, who could have used the experience, was also wasted.
Blignaut is a grumbler at the best of times, his bowling is right down the tubes, and he must be a pretty disgruntled man right now – never a good thing for team spirit. His batting ability has been wasted for two matches in a row, and it is well overdue for the team management to do something about it. The top order seems determined to get him to the wicket as quickly as possible, but the middle order appears just as resolute that he should stay in the pavilion. He is the nearest thing Zimbabwe have to Gilchrist and he must have his chance.
It is ludicrous that such a struggling team should continue to waste his talents. But Zimbabwe at the moment seem to be affected by fear, timidity and tunnel vision. Their good performances against West Indies have been shown up – both by themselves and also by the pitiful performances of West Indies in South Africa – to have been worth little. They will not improve until they sit back, take stock of themselves, tidy up the basics and back themselves so they will play with boldness.
(Article: Copyright © 2004 John Ward)
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