Match report Australia v Zimbabwe VB Series 26 Jan 2004
by John Ward

Scorecard:Australia v Zimbabwe

A defeat is a defeat, but defeat with honour is certainly preferable to a dishonourable rout, such as that suffered by West Indies at the hands of South Africa last Sunday. For the third time in successive matches, Zimbabwe lost with honour in Australia. Australia beat them by 13 runs in Adelaide, a commendably narrow margin, although never at any stage did Zimbabwe look like pulling off an unexpected victory.


Heath Streak’s bad luck with the toss continued, and Australia chose to bat on the usual sound batting pitch. Zimbabwe nearly had an early breakthrough, as in the second over, bowled by Andy Blignaut, Matt Hayden went on the pull and skyed a catch that Grant Flower should have been able to hold running back. It was a most unusual lapse for Flower, one of the finest all-round fielders in the world, and possibly he had the sun in his eyes.


Damian Martyn, going through a run of low one-day scores and promoted to open as Adam Gilchrist was rested, needed this sort of luck but didn’t have it. He lashed out at Streak, and the ball burst through the hands of Dion Ebrahim in the gully and bounced away. The fielder recovered superbly to clutch it before it hit the ground, a remarkable catch.


Streak as usual bowled superbly, and almost bowled Ricky Ponting early on, the ball beating his defences and inexplicably missing the stumps as well. Again most of Zimbabwe’s bowlers backed Streak up well, restraining the Australian top order, but Sean Ervine, perhaps unable to maintain top form in both batting and bowling at the same time, was expensive, consistently pitching too short and suffering the consequences.


Hayden too was forced to restrain himself against accurate bowling, with Blignaut showing some improvement, and had 20 off 27 balls, with only one boundary, when he tried to cut Blignaut and Ebrahim took another catch at backward point. Ponting looked in fine form, dominating his partnership with Hayden, but he was run out by a brilliant piece of fielding from Blignaut as he thought he had got the ball past him at midwicket. He was sent back and Blignaut’s throw was not quite spot on, but wicketkeeper Tatenda Taibu was so quick in breaking the wicket that Ponting just failed to regain his ground, run out for 63. Australia were 128 for three in the 24th over.


It is the middle overs of the innings where Zimbabwe’s bowlers have struggled most in recent matches, but this time the spinners Raymond Price and Flower bowled with skill and accuracy, forcing the Australians to work hard for their runs. It took them a long time to separate Michael Bevan and Michael Clarke, though, and that came through a bad call from Bevan, who foolishly called for a run after hitting the ball straight to Flower at backward point, and was easily run out. Australia were 205 for four in the 40th over.


Bevan on the whole contented himself with working the ball around the field for ones and twos, and scored 75 before he was deceived by an off-cutter from Douglas Hondo; the left-hander tried to swing the ball away to leg, but got a leading edge to be caught at mid-off. A final charge was frustrated by Streak, who returned to take two wickets at the death: Brad Haddin, keeping wicket in place of Gilchrist, was trapped lbw swinging across the line for 14, and finally Andrew Symonds (34) chopped a ball off the top edge to backward point.


Australia had never been allowed quite to get away as they would have liked in front of a capacity crowd on Australia Day, but they totalled a comfortable 279 for seven in their 50 overs. Streak, with three for 45, was the best and most successful bowler.


Zimbabwe juggled their top-order batting again: having dropped Vusi Sibanda, they promoted Taibu to open the innings, but he never looked comfortable in the role. The Australian new-ball bowlers were extremely testing, backed by excellent fielding, and Taibu eventually drove tentatively at Brad Williams outside the off stump and dragged the ball on to his wicket with a slanted bat. He had scored 9 off 32 balls, and the opening stand with Flower had made 29 in ten overs.


Flower also concentrated mainly on survival early on, only too well aware of how the Zimbabwe top order had failed so often, but the downside was that the team was never quite able to make up for its slow start. Travis Friend at number three was also unable to supply the big hits for which he is often promoted, tied down by the bowling and fielding and no doubt also the knowledge that the top order was so fragile, and he made just 8 before Lee bowled him through the gate, playing across the line.


Friend hardly looks right for number three at the moment, but who would do a better job? Stuart Carlisle, perhaps, might go at three with success, but he would be more comfortable with an aggressive partner to allow him to settle in without pressure. After 15 overs had been bowled Flower began to open up and play more freely, looking good against Lee who worked up a good pace. Carlisle again got a start, reaching 15, but then tried to pull a ball from Williams too far outside his off stump and skyed a catch to mid-off. Zimbabwe were 90 for three after 23 overs, needing seven an over to win.


Ervine, despite his recent century, struggled at first, but gradually found his touch. He was looking good at 33 when he mistimed an attempted lofted off drive and was caught near the boundary off spinner Brad Hogg. But the required rate was now just over eight an over. Shortly afterwards Flower fell for a gallant 94, slashing at Jason Gillespie to be caught at the wicket.


Again Zimbabwe’s choice of batsmen was questionable. Instead of Blignaut, who has not batted too well thus far but certainly has the ability to play a devastating innings, Ebrahim was sent in. He did his best for 11 off 15 balls before suffering a bizarre dismissal. He tried a reverse sweep off Symonds, edged it behind him, set off in anticipation of a single without knowing where the ball had gone, and then found that the moment he had left his crease it had bounced off the keeper’s pads on to the stumps. His dismissal was recorded at stumped and Zimbabwe were 191 for six with 11 an over required.


Stuart Matsikenyeri came in briefly, dancing down the pitch to Clarke to be bowled for 5 off just 3 balls. At the other end Streak as usual had to find the right line between security and assault, and he made 28 before, aiming a big hit to leg off Symonds, he skyed a catch which was taken by the bowler. 51 were needed off the final 25 balls. A situation for Douglas Marillier? But he was languishing back home in Zimbabwe.


Blignaut had finally put in a belated appearance at number nine, and Price came in next to give him gallant support as the two of them gave it all they had. They did manage 37 off those final 25 balls, finishing on 31 and 13 respectively, but once again the same thought persisted – Blignaut’s batting talent had not been put to its most effective use. Williams, with two for 38, was the most successful Australian bowler, but Gillespie, Lee and Hogg all conceded only four runs an over.


But a 13-run defeat to Australia is a source for pride rather than discouragement, and the crowd were no doubt as well satisfied with the entertainment given them by Zimbabwe as with the result. Zimbabwe are regaining their reputation as gallant losers, but still have to prove they can be more than very occasional winners.


(Article: Copyright © 2004 John Ward)


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