SPORT

England batsmen struggle

NOTTINGHAM June 26. Zimbabwe, outclassed in the Test series against England and staking everything on a run of success in the tri-series with England and South Africa, struggled past its lowest one-day score in the opening match at Trent Bridge on Thursday.

On a trick pitch England's new skipper Michael Vaughan brought up three slips and a gully even when the tiny Stuart Matsikenyeri, from the school that found Tatenda Taibu, began to play pedigree strokes. His side had an appalling start. Richard Johnson, making his one-day debut and only a month away from his six-wicket haul on his first Test, had Dion Ebrahim caught high in the slips by Flintoff off his second ball and Darren Gough, whose rebirth as an international fast bowler is the talk of dinner tables the length of Britain, followed up by getting lifting balls to flick off the gloves of Travis Friend and Don Marillier. By the end of the sixth over Zimbabwe was eight for three and Gough had taken two for four in eight balls.

Marillier walked even though Clarke's low catch needed half a dozen replays to persuade anyone that it was genuine. Marillier has either astonishing eyesight or great faith in the honesty of cricketers, accused by Dominic Cork, the Derbyshire captain today, of being part of a culture of cheating. Taibu carved a ball to point and Zimbabwe were 15 for four; only 18 came in their first ten overs.

England was put into to bat and for ten overs it looked as if Streak had made a big mistake. Vikram Solanki disappeared for only one in the third over but Trescothick flicked and drove and cut to such effect that he had 38 on the board before he was Heath's second victim in the 11th over.

The big disappointment, once again, was Vaughan. He was so dominant in 2002 that it became impossible to imagine a scenario in which he did not flay the bowling round the park. Today he played one Gordon Greenidge hook off his hips, which recalled his greatness in Australia but at 13, when England was 56 off ten overs, he essayed a huge pull at a ball from the trundler Sean Ervine that showed no respect for the bowler and no appreciation of the situation.

Five runs an over in the tenth needs a cool approach particularly on a pitch that is offering help to the seamers--and later provided turn and grip for the three Zimbabwe slow bowlers--and Vaughan had no need to try for any more big hits. When Trescothick was out in the next over, giving the underestimated Streak his 200th one-day victim, it appeared that Vaughan might even have lost the game by his rash shot.

The batsmen to follow--in the absence of such a notable figure as Graham Thorpe who is still out of favour--are all making their way in the game and none could be relied on for a long innings. One came strangely, from Flintoff, who reputation is gradually evolving. Once he was a hitter likely to lose his wicket at any moment.

Now he is, in the mould of the older Ian Botham, more likely to consolidate before he lets fly and today he was content to wait for the bad ball. If this is the mature Andrew Flintoff we must learn to enjoy him as we did `Freddie' Flintoff, with his Stone Age heaves at the ball.

England built its innings round him but Richard Key, another 21st century batsman--that is to say one who carries more than a pound too much--could not press on and in succession Anthony McGrath (14), Rikki Clarke (23 and the wicket-keeper Chris Read (23) playing in front of his home crowd failed to give full support. England staggered to 191 for eight and we feared that the joy of victory over Pakistan might be short-lived.

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