Monday, February 21, 2011

Spirited Zimbabwe

Australia v Zimbabwe, World Cup 2011, Ahmedabad

Spirited Zimbabwe keep Australia to 262

Shane Watson's laid the platform for
 Australia to reach 262 against
 Zimbabwe at Motera © Getty Images
Zimbabwe's bowlers put in a spirited performance in their first game of the World Cup, keeping Australia to 262 for 6 on a good batting wicket at Motera. As has been the case so often in recent times, Shane Watson provided the bulk of the runs at the top of the order with a well-paced 79, while Michael Clarke guided their charge past 250 with an unbeaten 58.
On a pitch that had some grass on it but had been rolled rock-hard before the start, Zimbabwe might have been expecting Haddin and Watson to launch Australia's innings with gusto but the openers made a strangely subdued start. Chris Mpofu, the only specialist seamer in the side, maintained a disciplined off-stump line with the new ball, straying just once onto Watson's pads and paying the price as the ball was glanced to the fine-leg boundary.
It had been suspected that Zimbabwe might use the tactic of opening with spin, and so it proved as Ray Price shared the new pill and also lived up to his unapologetically brusque reputation, laying into Watson before he'd even faced a ball.
The Zimbabweans stuck to a successful plan and with pressure building as just 19 runs came from the first seven overs, Haddin stepped inside a rare half-volley from Price to thread the gap between cover and mid-off to ease Zimbabwe's asphyxiating grip. That might have been just the catalyst needed to break the shackles, but Australia's oddly passive opening start continued and just 28 runs were scored in the first Powerplay.
Mpofu changed ends for a second spell but Australia's openers then decided they had had enough of the wait-and-see tactic and broke loose with 17 off his sixth over. Zimbabwe struck back when Prosper Utseya came on at the end of the first Powerplay and after an exemplary start to his spell - in which not a run was scored for the first nine deliveries he sent down - had his reward when Haddin stepped back to a flighted delivery and was struck in line with middle and leg. Umpire Asoka de Silva thought there might have been an inside edge, but Zimbabwe asked for a review - this being their first ever look at the UDRS - and had the decision over-turned.
Ricky Ponting, in his first full international innings since recovering from a finger injury, started fluently and his presence also seemed to give Watson the hurry-up. He entered the 40s by thrashing Utseya powerfully down the ground and eased past fifty shortly afterwards with a similarly muscle-bound thump off Brendan Taylor's offspin.
A brutal pull into the stands off Cremer followed, and after a quiet start to his innings Watson started to strike the ball with ominous force before he was removed by Zimbabwe's second fortuitous referral of the day. Stretching forward to a Cremer legbreak, Watson played with more pad than bat to prompt an emotive appeal. This time it was Umpire Richard Kettleborough who decided there was enough doubt to turn it down, but wicketkeeper Tatenda Taibu insisted on a referral and Zimbabwe were rewarded with the result they wanted.
They were given a serious lift in the very next over as Ponting took on Mpofu's arm with a hard-run second as the ball rolled to midwicket. A pinpoint rocket throw hit the wicket directly to catch him well short to spark wild celebrations from Zimbabwe and with that Australia were 144 for 3.
Clarke and Cameron White started their re-building effort cautiously as seven overs went by without a boundary but as soon as the final 10 overs were entered the Batting Powerplay was called for and Clarke immediately found the rope with a fierce pull off Utseya. Zimbabwe never let the game get away from them, however, Mpofu recovering well from a cumbersome start to his spell at the death to rattle White's stumps and reduce Australia to 207 for 4.
David Hussey and Steve Smith came and went in quick succession but gave the innings some oomph while they were at the crease, both clearing the boundary with some powerful strokes. Clarke remained to guide Australia to a total which, while probably not as many as they would have hoped for, should still be enough for them to make a winning start to their campaign. Zimbabwe will still be holding out hopes of an upset, but they will need their top order to show as much fight as their bowlers did if they are to get close.
Liam Brickhill is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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