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June 6-7, 1999

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Wet wet wet!

Prem Panicker

It's a strange world, this. About now -- now, being defined as 1700 IST on Monday, when I finally gave up hoping for the Zimbabwe-New Zealand game to resume and decided to do the report on the events thus far -- I am pretty sure the Zimbabwe captain must be praying for the rains to keep up, so that his team ends up sharing points with the Kiwis.

That puts Zimbabwe, with 5 points to its name, on track for a place in the semis. It keeps New Zealand in the hunt, just about -- it now has to beat either India or South Africa to tie with Zimbabwe on points. And interestingly, it pretty much shuts the door on India, whose best hope was to go flat out in its next two games, looking for wins (lose even one of the two next games and all bets are off anyways, the team might as well go souvenir-shopping preparatory to its return home) and, at the same time, hope that the Kiwis won this one, and neither they, nor Zimbabwe, won any more from here. Which would bring about a three way tie and the net run rate factor into play, giving India an opportunity to edge into the semis.

If this game is left unfinished -- which at the time of writing this, appears more than likely -- then India's campaign is all but over. They say that the best tennis players are the ones who play the big points well. If India finds itself out of the tournament, it will be because it played the big points badly -- the last ten overs, with the bat, against South Africa; the 49th over against Zimbabwe's Henry Olonga; the first six overs against Australia.

To return to the game under review, one man catches the eye and that is Geoff Allott. Whose 18 wickets equals the likes of India's Roger Binny in 1983, Australia's Craig McDermott in 1987 and Pakistan's Wasim Akram in 1992. Interestingly, it took Allott six games, against 10 for Akram, and eight apiece for Binny and McDermott.

Which puts the icing on a remarkable transformation, by a man who two years ago was written off as overweight and not up to scratch. More recently, after a dismal performance at Christchurch, he was dumped from the side. And now, he is one wicket away from being the most successful bowler in any one World Cup -- and two more games in which to go for that record.

If he can take 5 in the next two games, he will go past a New Zealand record, set by Sir Richard Hadlee, of 22 World Cup wickets. Which would be interesting, since it was Hadlee's elder brother Dayle who remodelled Allott's action, taught him the inswinger with which he gets a lot of his wickets, and also cured his back trouble (all of which underlines the value of a cricket academy in the development of players, which reminds me, our indigenous one, announced with great fanfare the other day, has come to a grinding halt once again).

Alistair Campbell won the toss and opted to bat. Fair enough, given that the pitch had cracks on it and chances were it could get worse, as could the weather.

But from there on, Zimbabwe got everything wrong. Neil Johnson rocketed the side off to a cracker of a start, but Allott produced a slightly quicker than usual delivery to force the inside edge onto pads and then onto the stumps. And Andy Flower, a dangerous led off the inside edge, and Andy Flower fended him to gully before he had scored to become a second new-ball victim.

Prior to that, the Kiwi fielding took its toll when Johnson played one square on the on. Grant Flower called for the run -- only for Matt Horne to run around the ball, take it on his right side and throw down the only stump he could see from a backward of square position.

Allott then made it a one-two when he got one to kick off a length. Andy Flower, a dangerous batsman once he settles down, was surprised as the ball grew big on him, and fended it off. Craig McMillan, at a slightly fine point, raced forward and flung himself headlong to pull off a great catch, and Zimbabwe were in trouble right from the get-go.

From then on, it was grim fare as Campbell got together with Murray Goodwin. Goodwin, who has played for Western Australia in the Sheffield Sheild, played the conditions well, getting on the back foot and covering the line quite well. Campbell wasn't in the best of touch, but he hung around, played the percentages, and kept looking for the ones. The players went off for rain midway through the 11th over, and resumed shortly before 2 pm.

The recovery seemed to be proceeding apace, with the Kiwis moving to 66/3 by the 14th over. And then the wheels, inexplicably, came off. True, the Kiwi support bowlers -- Gavin Larsen, Chris Harris and Nathan Astle -- are masters of containment, using the wicket to wicket line to perfection. And Cairns, after a wayward beginning, settled into a steady line and length as well.

But what happened out there was inexplicable. Statistics really tell the story. In the last 36 overs of the innings, a mere 109 runs were scored. In the Zimbabwe innings overall, there were just 10 overs when they scored at five or more. As against that, there were 19 overs when the Zimbabwe batsmen went at two or less -- and this latter statistic clearly underlines the problem, that the batsmen just weren't working the ball off the square for the singles.

Rain took the players off yet again at the end of the 36th over, with the score reading 134/3. And when they came back, it all fell to pieces. The batsmen alternated between pushing the ball to the fielders, and swiping at the ball without much movement of the feet. And predictably, the wickets fell even as the runs dried up, a mere 41 coming in the 14 overs that remained in the innings.

175 on the board was never going to be enough. Sure, teams have been tripped up by these in-between scores often enough in the past, but play the probabilities and you had to figure the Kiwis were in the box seat.

Mathew Horne and Nathan Astle, neither of whom had done much with the bat till date, came out apparently determined on hitting their way out of trouble. First Astle, then Horne blazed the track with scorching drives, pushing the front foot right out and hitting through the line to smash 57 off the first 11 overs.

Matt Horne was, in context of the rest of the tournament, batting himself back into ominous form. His dismissal was more than a touch iffy -- dancing down the wicket to Whittall, Horne flicked, missed and was rapped on the pad. Dave Orchard gave him the finger -- ignoring the fact that at the point of impact, the batsman was a good eight feet away from the stumps, and the ball was doing a bit off the track as well.

Astle fell to a stunning piece of fielding. The shot that took him out was a drive as good as any seen thus far in the innings, but Heath Streak at mid off dived to his left and took the rocketing ball with seeming ease.

Craig McMillan brought about his own downfall, waving airily at a ball on fullish length on off stump and being trapped plumb in front. And the three quick strikes put a bit of a dampener on proceedings, with Stephen Fleming and Roger Twose playing with exaggerated caution until the rains came with the chasing side 70/3 in 15.

And that is where it rests -- and is likely to remain for the rest of the day, as per latest word out of Leeds.

The focus thus shifts back to India, who take on Pakistan tomorrow in -- so what else is new? -- a do or die affair. If, that is, the rains stay away.


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