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May 25, 1999

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England cruise past Zimbabwe

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Before this tournament began, the pundits' feeling was that Zimbabwe would be the dangerous floaters of Group A.

As events turned out, Zimbabwe floated only long enough to torpedo India's campaign, before sinking again. It's a funny thing, really -- the side, under Alistair Campbell, has good potential but their performance, through this competition, has been less than on par.

In what was a crucial Group A game at Trent Bridge, England humbled them by seven wickets, and one gets the feeling, reviewing that game, that the losing side only had itself to blame.

Zimbabwe's problems began when Alec Stewart won the toss and inserted the opposition. There was some early life in the wicket, and the Zimbabwe batsmen, overly apprehensive, aided the likes of Gough and Mullally by playing neither forward nor back, preferring instead to stay in that no-man's land on top of the crease and paying a heavy price for it.

Darren Gough and Allan Mullally have been very impressive in this tournament thus far, the former using awayswing from the right hander in the early overs and reverse swinging yorkers later on, to do his damage while the latter goes for the slant across the right hander and his ability to straighten the ball off the seam to cause problems.

Zimbabwe, however, contributed to its misery with a batting order that made little sense. Neil Johnson had got off to a flier in his first outing here but since then, the way he batted indicated that his free-flowing strokeplay wasn't working against the seaming ball. On the other hand, Stephen Campbell is a technically correct, yet free-stroking opener, and more suited to be Grant Flower's opening partner.

As if Johnson going up the order and not quite managing to find his touch wasn't bad enough, they then send Paul Strang in at the loss of an early wicket, ostensibly to pinch hit. For the second time in two games, that gambit failed -- the two allegedly free-scoring batsmen, Johnson and Strang, today played a total of 29 balls for 6 runs, all of them to the former.

Zimbabwe had its window of opportunity -- for barring Mullally and Gough, none of the other England bowlers did more than put the ball on a length and reasonably straight line. However, the batsmen inexplicably went into a shell, remained in hibernation, then woke up to play get-out shots -- Grant Flower being a classic exemplar.

England's bowlers turned in a professional performance, backed by steady and -- in the case of the Nasser Hussain run out of Andy Flower, when the fielder raced in from point, fielded on the dive and threw down the stumps while still airborne, spectacular -- fielding. Watching the team in the field, though, you still get the feeling they are at least one quality bowler shy. Two strike bowlers, but the support act seems a bit vulnerable.

Zimbabwe had a chance -- albeit a slim one. 16 wides and 7 no balls put paid to those. Johnson alone was disciplined, and it showed in his figures. Streak went for 8 wides, which meant the second lead bowler was himself vulnerable. And both Olonga and Mbwangwa competed with each other in bowling long hops -- I frankly haven't seen as many gifts dished up to a batting side this side of Christmas Day.

Stewart had a chance to bat himself into touch, but kept slashing away from his body, almost playing on twice and generally making a mess of things till he perished pushing back at one on middle and playing it to mid off for Goodwin to hold an excellent catch.

Graeme Hick, the man in form, fell slashing way outside off to put the keeper in the picture, but Hussain, after a shaky start, settled down while Thorpe, in murderous mood, toyed with the attack, capitalising on each loose delivery -- and there were plenty of those.

By the time Thorpe fell slashing a hard chance to slip, England was well within sight of the win and after some huffing and puffing, Fairbrother and Hussain saw England home with overs to spare. Zimbabwe's tight fielding was of no avail, given the general indiscipline of the bowlers.

With the win, England have pretty much cemented its chances of proceeding to the Super Six stage. And all but knocked Zimbabwe out of contention, since that side has to take on the all-conquering Proteas next, and it is unlikely that Zimbabwe will pull off a win in that game.


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