|Scorecard:||Zimbabwe v Australia|
Australia won the first one-day international against Zimbabwe at Harare Sports Club by seven wickets. It was a much closer match than most expected, and although Zimbabwe never threatened to win, they played hard and well, their enthusiasm helping to make up for their lesser experience and skill. Their heroes were batsmen Brendan Taylor and Tatenda Taibu, while Australia owed most to the bowling of Jason Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz and the batting of Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn.
On a sunny winter’s day Zimbabwe won the toss and decided to bat on a good batting pitch at Harare Sports Club. There were several hundred spectators in the ground at the start of play, although most of them were schoolchildren on outings. Among the adults were several Australian flags and a number of people in Australian clothing. Perhaps the presence of their supporters helped to persuade the Australians not to call off the tour altogether.
To start with the contest did not look too uneven, though the demeanour of the Australians suggested they were playing an enjoyable but by no means tense warm-up match. Zimbabwe openers Stuart Matsikenyeri and Brendan Taylor played the Australian pacemen Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie with care but not too much apparent trouble, although Gillespie made the ball lift sharply. Matsikenyeri opened the scoring by launching McGrath over the covers for two in the first over.
Runs were hard to come by, though, although Matsikenyeri was always on the lookout for them. In the sixth over, with only 9 on the board, Matsikenyeri (8) slashed at Gillespie outside the off stump and edged the ball to the keeper. The first boundary came in the eighth over when Vusi Sibanda, in woeful form against Sri Lanka, drove Gillespie through the covers for four.
Taylor, on 6 in the 10th over, had an escape when Michael Clarke at third slip failed to hold a hard low chance off Gillespie. But after 10 overs the score was only 20 and the pressure was mounting as the Australians bowled a tight line and short of a length, giving few opportunities for the inexperienced to score. Sibanda in particular looked increasingly desperate, and Gillespie, fielding off his own bowling, missed a run-out opportunity as he backed up too far, hoping for an unlikely single as Taylor prodded the ball towards mid-on.
Clarke had a hard time in the field, as Sibanda (8) cut Kasprowicz and he was unable to hold a difficult low chance in the gully this time. Gillespie returned the figures of 7-4-7-1 in his opening spell. Surprisingly, McGrath who replaced him for a second spell began by conceding 11 runs, including a wide, on his first over from the southern end. But he finally broke through with a yorker to hit the base of the stumps, removing Sibanda for 18; 46 for two in the 20th over.
Taylor was gradually gaining in confidence, and in the same over he drove McGrath superbly through the covers for four to bring up the fifty. However, he escaped dismissal on 22 when stranded in midpitch, but another run-out opportunity was missed by backward point; the Australians were well below par in the field.
Dion Ebrahim, not a notably fast scorer, did his best, though taking risks; he made 8 off 16 balls before being bowled by a full-length ball from Williams. Zimbabwe were 64 for three in the 23rd over.
Taylor on 35 had another run-out escape, in a mix-up with Tatenda Taibu this time, but he survived to bring up the hundred in the 33rd over. A succession of singles brought up his fifty against the world’s strongest bowling attack, but with the assistance of supposedly the world’s strongest fielding side. It took him 96 balls.
Taibu was now getting the score moving at the other end, quietly until he lofted Symonds powerfully for four over mid-on. Taylor also tried to score more quickly, but he fell on 59 as he stepped back to drive Darren Lehmann through the off side but was well caught low down by a tumbling Ricky Ponting. Zimbabwe were 125 for four in the 37th over.
Andrew Symonds turned from his usual off-breaks to medium-pace, and Taibu pulled him superbly over square leg for six. Mark Vermeulen was looking for runs from the start, and after 40 overs Zimbabwe were 141 for four. For a brief while Zimbabwe dominated, with Vermeulen lofting Symonds for six over long-on, while Taibu swung him to long leg to reach his fifty.
Vermeulen scored 20 off 15 balls before he tried another big hit, off Michael Kasprowicz, and skyed it over the covers for Ponting to take a fine catch running back. Symonds at cover then missed a hard chance offered by Alester Maregwede on 1, off Gillespie, but Kasprowicz got a wicket as Taibu (57) drove another catch to Ponting in the covers. Mluleki Nkala ran himself out first ball, setting off for a unilateral single, but Kasprowicz was so quick following through that he had time to pick up the ball and run with it to the stumps. Zimbabwe were 184 for seven in the 46th over.
Maregwede (5) skyed Gillespie to long-on, while Tawanda Mupariwa (3) backed up too far, to be run out by bowler Symonds. Tinashe Panyangara again looked impressive as he worked 14 runs unbeaten off 15 balls at the end of the innings. A total of 205 was unlikely to test the Australians, though.
Douglas Hondo gave the Zimbabweans encouragement in his opening over, off which Adam Gilchrist failed to score a run, although there was one wide. Then came the major surprise, as Panyangara bowled a short ball to Matthew Hayden, who misjudged a pull, causing the ball to lob towards square leg, who ran forward and caught it – Hayden out first ball!
Gilchrist was unusually subdued at first, but Ponting was belligerent, pulling fiercely, including a six off Hondo. Then Gilchrist, like a sleeping giant, began to awake, swinging Panyangara for a big six over long leg, and the Australians now looked in command.
Then again, the unexpected happened, as Gilchrist pulled Hondo hard and Sibanda picked up a superb catch at midwicket off his bootlaces. Gilchrist had scored 26 off 29 balls and Australia were 53 for two in the 11th over.
Damian Martyn came in to partner Ponting, and Australia chugged along at more than five an over without raising a sweat. Both batsmen were strong on the drive, although Ponting pulled well when the bowlers pitched short. The other batsmen often found it difficult to time the ball on this pitch.
A superb straight drive by Ponting off Mupariwa took him past 50, scored off 61 balls, and he followed it with a six over long-on. With a century in mind, he batted with increasing aggression and hit the biggest six of the match, a drive over the stands wide of long-on.
Without a recognized sixth bowler, Taibu refrained from taking his pads off this once and tried the occasion medium-pace of Vusi Sibanda, but without success. Martyn reached his fifty off 69 balls and then went on a flurry, threatening to deprive Ponting of his century. At the second round of drinks Australia needed only 13 to win, but Ponting still needed 10 of them for his century.
There was a bit of manipulation between the batsmen, but it came to naught as Ponting on-drove Panyangara powerfully but in the air, only for Sibanda to run round from long-on and pick up a brilliant catch, even better than his earlier one, at ankle-height. Ponting made 91.
It took Martyn and new batsman Michael Clarke quite a while to cobble together those last 10 runs, but finally Clarke drove straight for four and Australia were home by seven wickets. The next two matches should be harder for Zimbabwe, now the Australians have had the chance to take a look at their opponents.
(Article: Copyright © 2004 John Ward)
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