England makes slow progress

LONDON May 22. Michael Vaughan struggled for more than an hour before a failure that belied his claim to be the greatest batsman of the 21st Century at Lord's on Thursday.

Zimbabwe, harassed by protesters, told it was too feeble for Test cricket and long odds against in its two-match series at the start of a cold, damp English summer, had stressed him severely.

Zimbabwe must have anticipated a major breakthrough in the first Test when Vaughan was out but it was held at bay by a Marcus Trescothick innings that reminded us what a dominant batsman he was before indecision and nerves got the better of him in Australia last winter. A revised, more relaxed stance, also restores hope that he can resume a shattered career and begin to score freely again.

Zimbabwe's bowlers found a responsive pitch, heavy overhead cloud and cool conditions that encouraged Heath Streak and Andy Blignaut to produce probably 15 of the finest overs this lush old ground has seen in its 200 years of top class cricket.

By the 17th over their torment finally unhinged Vaughan who was bowled round his leg by Streak for eight. He might have been out, for anything he knew about a series of superb deliveries particularly from Streak, on half a dozen previous occasions and he lingered on four for 28 balls.

Sometimes it was difficult to decide whether Vaughan had chosen not to play at the ball; but more often balls of such high quality deceived him that any batsman, in form and at the height of his powers would have been beaten.

Vaughan fought on, encouraged by Trescothick who looked the picture of composure as his left-handed stance gave him less trouble against the natural away swing. But even Trescothick, for all his 29 runs when Vaughan was out, could not cope all the time and he was rapped on the thigh, the fingers and the pads too often for it to be said that

his innings was totally controlled.

Mark Butcher, who has had a troubled start to the season without runs and afflicted by injury, also found that there was less to fear for a left-hander although he might have been out lbw to Hondo's first over when he was ten.

Trescothick was out, slashing a rising ball to second slip, at 121 and at tea, when England was 138 for two, the game was nicely balanced. England began, two hours before the delayed start at noon, by leaving out their fast bowler James Kirtley.

Rumours have been circulating for a couple of days that the selectors were unhappy about putting him into the mix at Lord's where he would be under the spotlight from two different television companies, the world's finest cricket photographers and the world's most forthright cricket journalists.

You may ask why they picked him in the first place. The answer, they say, is that the best seam bowlers in the country are injured and that, although Kirtley would have been making his Test debut, he has several years of one-day Internationals behind him. It was not just the England batting and the selectors' thinking that was timid.

The much heralded invasions from hordes of politically motivated souls who think that Robert Mugabe's reign is outrageous never happened. A lady bearing a placard that was difficult to read got 20 yards on to the pitch before a well-trained bevy of security men dragged her away was the only invader before lunch. Twenty minutes after a man strolled on to the ground, tried to unfurl a poster that was too weak to hold still in the wind and meekly surrendered.

Sport and politics are the better when they are woven into a strong thread of passion but today, from Vaughan's defensive prods to the weakly efforts of the Zimbabwe activists, there was not enough gusto to force change in a local council election much less push a dictator out of office or sway the result of a Test.

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