Joint-host cruises through

Andy Flower steers the ball past the Netherlands wicket-keeper Jeroen Smits during his delightful innings of 71.-Pic. AP

IT is not often that Zimbabwe, with due credit to its often spirited and combative cricketers, begins a match as the favourite. The Group `A' game at Bulawayo was one such rare occasion.

IT is not often that Zimbabwe, with due credit to its often spirited and combative cricketers, begins a match as the favourite. The Group `A' game at Bulawayo was one such rare occasion.

After all, the home side was meeting minnows, The Netherlands. The Zimbabweans, with eight points from four games — half of them accrued following a no-show by England — faced a must-win situation if they intended to enter their final league game against Pakistan with a realistic chance of entering the `Super Six' stage.

And more than their opponent it was overnight rain at Bulawayo that left the Zimbabweans worried. A no result could severely dent their qualification for the next stage.

It was clear, the host would leave nothing to chance. Said skipper Heath Streak — "We don't know the meaning of the word complacent." Truth to tell, such was the situation in Pool `A', that his side could not afford to relax.

The Zimbabweans decided to give Grant Flower time to recover from a left finger injury. The Zimbabweans had risked him against Australia, where he did bat bravely, but, if the side was to progress in the tournament, they would need Grant's injury to mend.

For the Dutch, the tournament has been a wonderful learning experience, and Roland Lefebvre's men, mostly amateurs battling it out on the big league, had not disgraced themselves either, despite their inexperience, despite the shortage of talent.

"The team has been very competitive and was not thrashed or rolled over by the big teams,'' said Lefebvre even as he admitted that the lack of practise against quality pace and spin in the domestic competition back home had made things difficult for his side. The Netherlands' resolve and resilience were its biggest assets.

It was no different at Bulawayo, where the side, chasing Zimbabwe's 301 for eight, managed to go beyond 200, ending at 202 for nine. Like what Lefebvre said at the end, his side was taking in things all the time.

For the Zimbabweans, Andy Flower, behind whom the side had stood as one when the Zimbabwe Cricket Union threatened to drop him from the squad following his protest against the Robert Mugabe government's anti-democratic ways, top-scored with (71, 72b, seven fours).

For the second game in-a-row, the southpaw had worn a white arm-band signalling peace; a black one had been strung around his arm in the match against Namibia, attracting wide media coverage.

The wily No. 3 batsman has made runs against much better sides than The Netherlands, however, the fact that he was able to motivate himself and produce timely runs against a lowly opponent, given the state of mind he must have been in, reveals the combative nature of his cricket.

Andy appeared to be hampered by a groin strain, however, he still produced some scintillating strokes. If Andy's effort provided middle-order stability, then the blistering ways of Andy Blignaut (58, 38b, 7x4), and captain Streak (44, 22b, 6x4, 1x6) ensured that The Netherlands would have to chase a target beyond 300.

Blignaut, a lovely striker of the ball, did not clear the ground as he did during his delightful half-century against Australia, yet, he still managed to get the runs at a good clip, finding the gaps.

Streak, a big-hitter himself, hit the ropes regularly in the end overs, apart from clearing it once, before falling to seamer Tim de Leede, who has picked up wickets regularly in the competition. It was another paceman, Feiko Kloppenburg, who was the best bowler on the day for The Netherlands, returning creditable figures of two for 40 in 10 overs.

In The Netherlands innings, Van Bunge made 37, which was the highest, however, there were enough useful contributions, including captain Lefebvre's 23-ball 30 (three fours, one six), that not only took the score past 200, but also came in the way of Zimbabwe, for whom leg-spinner Brian Murphy scalped three, bowling the side out.

Zimbabwe notched up four points rather comfortably, however, The Netherlands wouldn't have been too unhappy about the outing in Bulawayo.

The scores :

Zimbabwe: C. Wishart c Smits b Lefebvre 21; M. Vermeulen b Kloppenburg 27; A. Flower c Esmeijer b Schiferli 71; G. Whittall c Zuiderent b Kloppenburg 30; D. Ebrahim b de Leede 32; A. Blignaut c Kloppenburg b Schiferli 58; H. Streak c Esmeijer b de Leede 44; D. Marillier lbw b Lefebvre 1; T. Taibu (not out) 7; Extras (lb-3, w-7) 10; Total (for eight wickets in 50 overs) 301.

Fall of wickets: 1-24, 2-82, 3-135, 4-165, 5-245, 6-274, 7-281, 8-301.

The Netherlands bowling: Schiferli 10-2-43-2; Lefebvre 8-0-38-2; De Leede 7-0-69-2; Kloppenburg 10-0-40-2; Esmeijer 9-0-60-0; Van Bunge 3-0-22-0; Mol 3-0-26-0.

The Netherlands: F. Kloppenburg c Streak b Hondo 18; E. Schiferli b Streak 22; B. Zuiderent (run out) 15; D. Van Bunge lbw b Whittall 37; T. De Leede lbw b Murphy 1; L. Van Troost c Hondo b Murphy 26; R. Scholte c Blignaut b Murphy 7; H. Mol c sub b Marillier 23; R. Lefebvre b Marillier 30; J. Smits (not out) 8; J. Esmeijer (not out) 3; Extras (b-1, lb-7, w-3, nb-1) 12; Total (for nine wickets in 50 overs) 202.

Fall of wickets: 1-41, 2-49, 3-80, 4-85, 5-127, 6-130, 7-148, 8-190, 9-191.

Zimbabwe bowling: Blignaut 10-1-30-0; Streak 10-1-36-1; Hondo 6-1-16-1; Murphy 10-3-44-3; Marillier 9-0-49-2; Whittall 5-1-19-1.