Trescothick sets the tone

S. DINAKAR

THE English team was a touch concerned about missing key players as it arrived in Sri Lanka. In fact, England had been rocked by injuries.

No opener Michael Vaughan, in prime form, no all-rounder Andrew Flintoff, a key player in the limited overs format, no incisive paceman Darren Gough, so useful towards the end overs.

There was one match-winner left in its ranks - Marcus Trescothick. A glorious shotmaker with the habit of altering the course of matches.

Marcus Trescothick spanks Grant Flower on way to his century.-N. BALAJI

If Zimbabwe had any chance of winning in the Pool 2 day/night game at the Premadasa Stadium, it had to remove Trescothick early. It failed.

The possibilities before this game were interesting. A win for Zimbabwe would open up a three-way tie, if England were to beat India in the last match.

On the other hand, if England managed to put it across Zimbabwe, it would meet India in a 'knock-out' league game before the semifinal.

Ronnie Irani traps Guy Whittall leg before. Irani bagged four wickets.-N. BALAJI

The Zimbabweans, thanks to Andy Flower's innings, had managed to give India a fright, and the spirit of the side was good ahead of the game. Captain Heath Streak expressed confidence in the ability of his men to pull it off, yet, he must have known only too well that there were major worries in bowling.

England's problems were in batting, the absence of Vaughan and Graham Thorpe in the middle order leaving it fragile. Owais Shah and Ian Blackwell hardly had the kind of experience needed to come through crunch situations.

In the event, it was a good toss to win for England, not only would it play when the pitch played at its best - the Premadasa wicket has the reputation of slowing down as the innings progresses - but its rather inexperienced middle-order would not be exposed to the pressure.

Douglas Hondo, too, had a four-wicket haul. Here he castles Nick Knight.-N. BALAJI

In the event, England got to 298, Trescothick striking a thundering 102-ball 119, and adding 141 in 162 balls with skipper Nasser Hussain for the second wicket. The side lost Nick Knight, who has a fair record in ODIs, early, the left-hander dragging the ball on to his stumps. However, Trescothick and Hussain went after the Zimbabwean bowling. And, with neither the required variety or the firepower, the side was always going to struggle in the bowling department.

In the NatWest final, Trescothick and Hussain had raised 188 in 177 balls and that was a day when both the English batsmen got to centuries. It was also a day when England still lost.

Hussain, using the pull stroke to good effect, got to 75 off 97 balls when he took a swipe at his opposite number Streak operating off a shortened run-up and heard the sound of rattling timber behind him.

Trescothick fell with the score at 224, bowled, trying to smash Grant Flower, bowling left-arm spin, through extra cover. Debutant Ian Blackwell, Owais Shah and senior wicket-keeper batsman Alec Stewart contributed useful runs as England set Zimbabwe a target of 299 in 48 overs - Streak's men were docked two overs for slow over-rate.

Paceman Douglas Hondo once again picked up four wickets, three of them in his two-over spell towards the end of the innings, and it was puzzling why Streak did not give him a burst in the middle overs considering Hondo has been picking up wickets on a regular basis.

The Zimbabwean innings never took off really. There were quite a few supporters for them on the ground, but on this night, even they could not inspire the team.

Matthew Hoggard (three for 25), pitching the ball up and allowing it to swing, picked up three early wickets - Alistair Campbell, Dion Ebrahim and Grant Flower. And then Ronnie Irani, with his military medium pace, bowled stump to stump, seldom allowed the batsmen the room to cut and pull, and finished with four for 37 off 10 overs in a match-winning spell.

The prize scalp, of course, was that of Andy Flower, fresh from his big hundred against India. Andy was appearing on course for a big innings yet again, when he got a leading edge to an Irani delivery and was caught by Jeremy Snape at point. It was all over for Zimbabwe at that point.

Skipper Streak struck some big blows in his unbeaten 50, but it was an innings that only helped reduce the margin of defeat. England was a winner, comprehensively.

The scores:

England: M. Trescothick b G. Flower 119; N. Knight b Hondo 8; N. Hussain b Streak 75; R. Irani c Campbell b G. Flower 4; I. Blackwell c A. Flower b Streak 17; O. Shah c Campbell b Hondo 25; A. Stewart (not out) 23; D. Cork c Streak b Hondo 0; J. Snape c & b Hondo 7; A. Caddick (not out) 10. Extras (nb-1, w-6, lb-3) 10. Total (for eight wkts. in 50 overs) 298.

Fall of wickets: 1-46, 2-187, 3-200, 4-224, 5-240, 6-272, 7-273, 8-287.

Zimbabwe bowling: Streak 10-0-50-2, Hondo 6-0-44-4, Mbangwa 10-0-52-0, Whittall 7-0-45-0, Marillier 4-0-26-0, Price 4-0-27-0, G. Flower 9-0-51-2.

Zimbabwe: A. Campbell b Hoggard 2; D. Ebrahim c Blackwell b Hoggard 20; G. Flower c Trescothick b Hoggard 7; A. Flower c Snape b Irani 44; S. Carlisle c Knight b Irani 23; G. Whittall lbw b Irani 4; H. Streak (not out) 50; D. Marillier lbw b Snape 6; D. Hondo b Irani 11; R. Price (run out) 7; M. Mbangwa (not out) 1. Extras: (b-1, lb-6, nb-2, w-6) 15. Total (for nine wkts. in 48 overs) 190.

Fall of wickets: 1-3, 2-14, 3-55, 4-102, 5-111, 6-112, 7-122, 8-150, 9-188.

England bowling: Caddick 10-0-37-0, Hoggard 10-1-25-3, Cork 8-0-37-0, Irani 10-0-37-4, Snape 6-0-18-1, Blackwell 4-0-29-0.

Setting the record straight

MARCUS TRESCOTHICK might have been excused if he had smiled a little more after England's win over Zimbabwe at the Premadasa Stadium, than on some of the earlier occasions.

After all, this was the first time that he had scored a ODI hundred and England had won. On the three previous times, when he had a century against his name, England had gone down.

This time it was different and, in the process, Trescothick had also broken a jinx. Given the quality of his effort, he deserved to be on the winning side.

When the umpire called 'play' Trescothick wasted little time in getting into his stride, lofting Douglas Hondo down the ground, square-driving him, and forcing him through the covers.

He turned his attention to Heath Streak and picked runs off him as well on both sides of the wicket, the ball just racing to the fence, so fiercely was it being struck.

The 27-year-old Somerset and England opener was at his fluent best. At the five-over mark, the score read 41, and when the other English opener Nick Knight fell to Hondo at 46, in the sixth over, he had contributed just eight of those runs.

Skipper Nasser Hussain made his attacking intent known quickly, and Trescothick continued batting with a flourish. Anything on the leg-stump was put away quite mercilessly, while the left-hander's off-side play, especially between point and cover, was quite sensational on this day. The English hundred came in just 16.4 overs, and the batting side got past 150 in the 25th over. This was tremendous going.

A natural, aggressive player with an uncomplicated technique, Trescothick reached his hundred with a sweep off Grant Flower, bowling left-arm spin, and his celebration after reaching the landmark indicated how much the effort meant to him.

The home season had been a frustrating one for Trescothick, especially the second half of the English summer. He cracked that glorious hundred against India in the NatWest final, but missed the first three matches of an eventful Test series, after fracturing a finger.

Coming back to the innings, Trescothick should have departed soon after his century had Dion Ebrahim at deep mid-off accepted a none too difficult catch. Trescothick had time for one more huge hit, a six over mid-wicket off Grant Flower, but was consumed off the next delivery, attempting an extravagant drive.

In all he had faced just 102 balls, and struck eleven boundaries and two sixes in his match-winning 119. Yes, this time around, his century had actually won an ODI for England!