Zimbabwe Fight Australia at Bulawayo

World Cup Cricket News 25/02/03

Report By Jon Cocks

When Douglas Hondo dropped Adam Gilchrist (61) at third man from Andy Blignaut’s first over in the Australian run chase on this sunny Sunday afternoon at Bulawayo, he must have experienced a sinking feeling. Given Gilchrist’s subsequent ruthless punishment of the Zimbabwean medium-fast bowlers, he must have known that his lapse might well have closed off his country’s slender window of opportunity to steal a famous victory against the defending World Cup champions.

Gilchrist plundered ten from Blignaut’s first over, while Matt Hayden (34) sought to get his eye in at the other end. While the asking rate of nearly five an over appeared nothing more than a stroll in the park for the Australian openers, the chase had to negotiate a few hills before the unbeaten 92 run fourth wicket union of Lehmann (56*) and Martyn (50*) restored total Australian authority over proceedings.

Two partnerships in the morning – one steady and substantial from the Flower brothers and the other featuring explosive hitting from Andy Blignaut (54 from 28 balls) - saw the beleaguered Zimbabweans post a competitive 9-246 against Australia. Winning the toss and batting on a slowish batting wicket, the home batsmen were kept in check by tight Australian bowling and fielding, only to break free to the tune of 90 in the final ten overs.

Jason Gillespie (9-2-50-2) began well, having Whittall (1) caught by Hogg and bowling Wishart (10). He and McGrath restricted the Zimbabwe upper order to less than three an over in the early overs. Lee (10-0-63-1) and Symonds (10-1-35-0) took over and restrained Andy and Grant Flower. The premier home batsmen settled into a war of attrition with the Australian bowlers and fieldsmen, with no party able to get on top.

Andy Flower worked anything remotely wide of his off stump to the rope between third man and cover, while his brother looked to drive straight and to work balls into gaps on the leg side. Both brothers looked to pull anything short, as the 50 partnership came from 94 balls in the 23rd over. Gilchrist stood up to the stumps for Symonds’ medium-pacers, despite neither batsman showing an inclination to leave his crease.

Line and length had kept them in check, but the brothers began to attack more overtly. The tension grew, as Andy Flower worked Symonds to third man to raise his 50. At 2-89, the game shivered on the edge of a breakthrough. The Australian body language looked more urgent as the hundred came up in the 27th over. Grant Flower (37) straight drove Symonds to the sightscreen and Brad Hogg came into the attack.

The first ball from Hogg was a no ball, but resulted in a runout. Andy Flower turned Hogg to McGrath at fine leg and called for the second. Grant hesitated and was lost, as the laser-like return was taken by the keeper, who threw down the stumps at the bowler’s end, catching the younger Flower short and ending the third wicket partnership at 85.

Meanwhile, Damien Martyn (4-0-21-0), replacing Symonds, missed an easy runout of his own. He received the ball just wide of the stumps at the bowler’s end, with Dion Ebrahim halfway down the pitch. His little flick at the stumps from a metre away missed.

Brad Hogg (8-0-46-3) settled into an excellent spell that opened up the Zimbabwe middle order. He began by clean bowling Andy Flower (62) with a brilliant flipper. Doug Marillier hit Hogg’s next delivery straight to Ponting at mid wicket and Zimbabwe struggled at 6-142, with Taibu (23) holding things together. Hogg bowled Ebrahim (15) with a wrong ‘un and Zimbabwe had slumped to its knees.

Enter Andy Blignaut with an extraordinary assault on Hogg and Gillespie (whose first over back cost 18). Smashing balls straight down the ground and over mid wicket, Blignaut plundered 8 fours and two sixes in a brief but devastating cameo that dragged Zimbabwe back into the contest.

The only thing more breath-taking was Brett Lee’s reflex caught-and-bowled dismissal of the rampant Zimbabwean tailender. The home fans were able to celebrate the cricket and the absence of unpleasant politics, as Heath Streak (28) hit out well late, clubbing Lee for six, but Glenn McGrath (9-2-24-2) hit the stumps twice in his final over.

At 0-30 after four overs, it appeared that Australia would make short work of the target. Matt Hayden had just off driven Blignaut (10-0-53-0) for four to open his account, while Gilchrist had already struck four boundaries. Taibu stood up over the stumps, but the slips had disappeared and most men in catching positions were forward of square.

Hondo (9-0-49-0) replaced Steak (6-0-39-0) and bowled an excellent first over, but Hayden began to get his eye in and strike his next three boundaries in short order. Whittall’s first two overs went for 19, so Streak introduced off spinner Doug Marillier, who promptly allowed Gilchrist his second chance, putting down a return catch from the Australian vice captain, who was on 54 at the time.

Hayden was caught by Grant Flower from Hondo’s bowling in the fifteenth over, signalling the end of the boundaries and the steady march to victory by singles. Ricky Ponting (38, with just two fours) joined Gilchrist. The pair milked Marillier (10-1-32-1) and leg spinner Murphy (9-0-48-1), until an impatient Gilchrist holed out to sub fielder Ervine at mid wicket from the worst ball of the match, a rank long hop that looped to leg off the toe of the bat.

Damien Martyn joined Ponting and the stroll towards victory continued, until Ponting was caught and bowled by Murphy, playing through the ball on a wicket that was slowing down. However, the advent of Darren Lehmann to the crease steadied the ship.

Working the ball all around the wicket, the South Australian captain rotated the strike and punished the loose deliveries with his trademark cuts, drives and pulls. His 56* came from 48 balls and his positive batting helped Martyn lift his tempo and Australia cruised to a very comfortable victory with fifteen balls to spare.

Australia has all but qualified for the Super Sixes in the match over which a great deal of pre-match angst was expressed, but which ultimately took place under blue skies and with no off-field drama. Andy Flower’s black armband protest was shelved for the occasion, as his bat did the talking today. It wasn’t enough for a Zimbabwe victory, but at least cricket had a win in the troubled African nation and at Bulawayo, even if the name does mean ‘Place of Slaughter’ in the native tongue.

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