More happening off the field than on it

Published : Jul 07, 2001 00:00 IST


THERE was greater drama in the Zimbabwean dressing room than on the field. Heath Streak had stepped down as skipper and there was panic as the selectors had to look for a captain. Grant Flower was picked as a stop-gap arrangement and it was not an ideal start to the triangular one-day series.

The absence of Andy Flower had been a blow to Zimbabwean hopes. With Brian Lara too returning home due to an injury, the competition had lost a lot of flavour and this controversy was quite a damper for the organisers.

The response to the match, however, was superb. No schoolkids being herded to fill up the stands. The din was welcome as it enlivened the atmosphere even though there was disappointment for the home crowd as Zimbabwe made a poor start to the series.

The controversy took its toll. "It was not an out of the blue decision," said Streak and that said it all. The Test victory against India should have boosted the morale of Zimbabwean cricket but the players had picked the wrong time indeed to stress their point.

Creditably, Streak did not allow the drama to affect his game and he bowled superbly. He was not the captian but he made all the changes on the field, Grant Flower remaining a spectator really.

The team was behind Streak and that reflected on the atmosphere that prevailed in the Zimbabwean camp. "We've to focus on the game and it was time to stand up for the players," said Streak.

It suited the West Indians who were recovering from the loss of Lara. It may have been a blessing for the Caribbeans since the superstar from Trinidad was not fully fit and it also meant that Carl Hooper had greater responsibility. He was leading a bunch of youngsters and the fact that the team was in the process of transition added to the responsibility of each individual.

"We're professionals and need to be focussed on the game. Such decisions affect our lives," said Streak on his decision to highlight certain sore points in the relationship between him and the selectors.

Even though Streak denied it, the problem was in the selection of Tatenda Taibu, who was preferred to Donald Campbell, brother of Alistair Campbell. Alistair was Zimbabwe's top-scorer in this match, but he was never in a position to force the pace and his slow batting pushed the home team's chances back.

It was expected to be a keen contest but once the West Indies posted a total of 250-plus the ball rolled against Zimbabwe. The pressure was always on Zimbabwe and its batting just could not measure up to the challenge. "We didn't have a good game," confessed Streak but would not agree that the off-the-field happenings had affected the team's state of mind.

The West Indies was clearly the superior side, what with the openers showing the way with a splendid century partnership. The manner in which Chris Gayle and Daren Ganga went about their job it was clear that the two were batting to a plan even though they ought to have taken greater advantage of the bowling. Their domination was not complete and it took some sensible batting from Carl Hooper and Shivnarine Chanderpaul to give the West Indies a total which was formidable under the circumstances.

Ganga, Gayle, Wavell Hinds, Hooper and Chanderpaul all made an impressive start to the series. It was not that the Zimbabweans had nothing to offer in this match. They learnt a few lessons and importantly, discovered a competent wicketkeeper in Taibu. His glovework was quite impressive and none in the Zimbabwean camp would have grudged this 18-year-old making his international debut. It was for the first match in nine years that Zimbabwe did not have Andy Flower keeping the wickets and Taibu stepped into the role very well.

Zimbabwe did not have the firepower in its batting to match the West Indians who were given a great start in bowling by Cameron Cuffy.

A big knock was what Zimababwe needed but there was none to guide the side. Even though Campbell and Grant Flower made an effort it was not enough to create a winning situation. The West Indians had sealed all the routes. Guy Whittall produced an innings which did entertain the packed house but it lacked the punch to knock the opposition out. The lower half of the Zimbabwean line-up could not have been faulted, for the failure lay with the top-order.

West Indies was a clear winner. It was a near-flawless performance with the sore note being struck in its fielding. Even the Zimbabweans made fielding errors but that was not the reason they lost. The West Indians played better cricket all the way.

The scores:

West Indies: D. Ganga st. Taibu b Murphy 66; C. Gayle c Friend b Murphy 53; W. Hinds (run out) 37; S. Chanderpaul c Friend by Blignaut 51; C. Hooper c G. Flower b Streak 29; M. Samuels (not out) 7; R. Jacobs (not out) 0; Extras (b-4, lb-3, nb-3, w-13) 23; Total (for five wkts. in 50 overs) 266.

Fall of wickets: 1-113, 2-168, 3-180, 4-242, 5-264.

Zimbabwe bowling: Blignaut 9-0-47-0, Streak 10-0-35-1, Friend 7-0-62-1, Nkala 4-0-34-0, Murphy 9-0-43-2, Grant Flower 10-0-38-0.

Zimbabwe: A. Campbell c (sub) Sarwan b Dillon 68; D. Ebrahim c Jacobs b King 11; S. Carlisle c Hooper b Dillon 17; G. Flower c Jacobs b Nagamootoo 29; A. Blignaut (run out) 25; G. Whittall c Hinds b Samuels 32; H. Streak b Samuels 16; M. Nkala c Jacobs b Dillon 0; T. Friend b Samuels 17; T. Taibu (not out) 1; B. Murphy (not out) 15; Extras (b-2, lb-4, nb-1, w-1) 8; Total (for nine wkts in 50 overs) 239.

Fall of wickets: 1-18, 2-44, 3-99, 4-137, 5-187, 6-188, 7-190, 8-221, 9-224.

West Indies bowling: Cuffy 10-2-20-0, King 9-0-57-1, Dillon 10-2-48-3, Hooper 6-0-29-0, Nagamootoo 10-0-51-1, Samuels 5-0-28-3.

Sacrificing pace for accuracy

HE arrived in the true tradition of West Indian fast bowlers, but failed to live up to the promise. Cameron Cuffy is now in his second stint in international cricket, returning to the big league after a series of crippling injuries which took away the three best years of his career.

Fans in India might remember the hype that preceded Cuffy's arrival in 1994-95. He was part of the West Indian team which toured India but he couldn't do much.

Cuffy is a gross underachiever for the kind of talent he showed in the Red Stripes competition. Coming from the serene island of St. Vincent, this gangling fast bowler was groomed as a replacement for someone like Joel Garner.

Cuffy had the height and the desire but lacked the pace to make a mark in the West Indian team. As he strove for pace, he suffered injuries at various points in his career and for three years he was off the scene literally.

Cuffy remembers his first first-class match in 1991 when he picked up just one wicket. But then it was a wicket which mattered so much - Viv Richards. That was the most memorable moment for him and the giant now concentrates on line and length to snare his victims.

At 31, Cuffy is an experienced bowler in the West Indian team and carries the responsibility of guiding the new faces. He had begun his career with a lot of promise but lost his way and his place in the side. His comeback against South Africa at home convinced the selectors that he still had the ammunition to serve the team for at least couple of years.

Cuffy had watched and learnt from Winston Davis, who lies crippled now. It has been a tough grind for Cuffy no doubt and this journey to Zimbabwe is what he has been looking forward to. It gives him an opportunity to get a place in the side and he is well aware of the need to deliver in times when his team is going through a tough phase.

Cuffy bowled a decent line and length in the opening match against Zimbabwe and was adjudged the 'Man of the Match' for his nagging spell. He did not get any wicket but shackled Zimbabwe in the early stages when the home team looked to score briskly. Cuffy had been talking of adding variety to his bowling in one-day cricket and this was a good stage for him to demonstrate it. He has shed pace and worked on a good line and length, the basics of good bowling in any grade of cricket.

Cuffy admires Pete Sampras for his consistency and Bob Marley for the grit to stand up against any opposition. Marley's music has been a great influence on Cuffy, as it has been on countless West Indians. In his new role as a senior member of the side, Cuffy does promise to do some justice to his potential.

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