Wishart makes merry

Craig Wishart made a big unbeaten hundred against the insipid Namibian attack.-— Pic. REUTERS

It was an encounter where opener Craig Wishart produced a scintillating innings, remaining unbeaten with 172, as the home team, finished at an imposing 340 for two in 50 overs, a whopping score, even if it was achieved against minnow Namibia.

CRICKET in strife-torn Zimbabwe, rocked by violence and unrest, has been the subject of much debate, brinkmanship and heartburning. When the first World Cup match did get underway there finally, there was much relief in the host nation.

It was an encounter where opener Craig Wishart produced a scintillating innings, remaining unbeaten with 172, as the home team, finished at an imposing 340 for two in 50 overs, a whopping score, even if it was achieved against minnow Namibia. This was a Zimbabwe record, beating its 325 for six against Kenya in 1998/99.

The visitors won the toss, and then were sent on a leather hunt, with Wishart, in particular, in a mean mood. The flurry of big hits just refused to ebb, as Zimbabwe went from strength to strength.

It was also a duel that for all its runs had to be decided by the Duckworth-Lewis method for rain-affected matches. When play had to be halted with Namibia struggling at 104 for five in 25.1 overs, it was clear that Zimbabwe had done enough to make a winning start to its campaign in Group `A.'

The match witnessed Zimbabwe's most senior and accomplished cricketer Andy Flower and paceman Henry Olonga signalling their protest at the trampling of civil rights and democracy in this Southern African country under president Mugabe by wearing black arm bands.

"We are mourning the death of democracy in our beloved Zimbabwe. We are making a silent plea to those responsible to stop the abuse of human rights in Zimbabwe. We pray that our small action may help restore sanity and dignity to our nation,'' they said in a joint stinging statement.

Even if the mood in the Zimbabwe camp was grim due to the off-field events, it did not reflect on the field of play, at least against a World Cup first-timer.

Wishart has been in and out of the side, not always receiving the best of treatment from the Zimbabwean selectors. However, he has soldiered on. And he was in a mean mood on February 11, cutting loose against the hapless Namibia bowlers, striking three sixes and 18 boundaries in his 149-ball effort, timing his strokes well, and being fluent off either foot.

The highest individual score by a Zimbabwean batsman in ODIs it certainly was — beating Andy Flower's 145 against India in the ICC Champions Trophy — but fell well short of the World Cup best, which is South African Gary Kirsten's 188 not out at the expense of lowly UAE in the '96 World Cup.

Had you drawn up a list of openers to watch out for in the ongoing World Cup, Wishart would not have figured high, which is not really surprising, given that he has not always been an automatic selection. But then, the Namibia bowlers will have a different tale to tell.

On a pitch that did not offer too much assistance to the bowlers, the inexperienced Namibia attack seemed in plenty of trouble as Wishart and Mark Vermeulen added 107 for the opening wicket, setting up a fine platform.

The likes of Louis Burger and Bjorn Kotze, Namibia's new ball pair, were finding life at an elevated level not a pleasant experience. Vermeulen had made 39, playing the role of the second fiddle, when he was caught and bowled by left-arm spinner Lennie Louw, who at 43 is the oldest cricketer in the tournament.

Andy Flower rattled up a stroke-filled 39, walking in at No. 3 and dishing out strokes on both sides of the wicket before being consumed by the part-time leg-spin of Berry Burger.

Then arrived the unfinished third-wicket partnership of 166 runs that effectively killed off the Namibian challenge, if at all there was any. The quaint Harare Sports Club ground was awash with telling strokes as Wishart and Grant Flower cut loose, picking gaps with ease, and executing the lofted strokes with aplomb. The torrent of runs never abated and Zimbabwe ended up at an imposing 340 for two in 50 overs, Grant, playing his part well with a dashing 78, walking back to a warm applause along with Wishart.

Namibia, to the surprise of many, was off to a cracking start, with opener Stefan Swanepoel and No. 3 Burger, essaying some aggressive strokes, and then, Keulder coming up with some bold hits. The rain came in the 16th over when Namibia was 74 for two. Fifty minutes were lopped off and the revised target was 325 in 46 overs. Heath Streak, Guy Whittall and Grant Flower were among the wickets, and when rain finally put paid to the match, Namibia was 104 for five in 25.1 overs. There was going to be only one result and that was a Zimbabwe victory. In accordance with the Duckworth and Lewis method, the home team was declared to have won the match by 86 runs.

The scores:

Zimbabwe: Craig Wishart (not out) 172; Mark Vermeulen c and b Louw 39; Andy Flower c Karg b Andries Burger 39; Grant Flower (not out) 78; Extras (lb 7 w 4 nb 1) 12; Total (for two wickets in 50 overs) 340.

Fall of wickets: 1-107, 2-174.

Namibia bowling: Gerrie Snyman 10-0-49-0, Louis Burger 10-1-70-0, Bjorn Kotze 10-1-75-0, Lennie Louw 10-0-60-1, Deon Kotze 7-0-56-0, Andries Burger 3-0-23-1.

Namibia: Riaan Walters c Tatenda Taibu b Streak 0; Stefan Swanepoel c Streak b Guy Whittall 23; Jan Burger c Andy Flower b Streak 26; Danie Keulder c Ebrahim b Guy Whittall 27; Gavin Murgatroyd c Craig Wishart b Grant Flower 10; Louis Burger (not out) 4; Deon Kotze (not out) 5; Extras (lb 1 w 8) 9; Total (for five wkts. in 25.1 overs) 104.

Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-40, 3-80, 4-94, 5-98.

Zimbabwe bowling: Heath Streak 5-0-35-2; Douglas Hondo 6-1-20-0; Henry Olonga 3-1-8-0; Brian Murphy 1-0-7-0; Grant Flower 5.1-1-13-1; Guy Whittall 5-0-20-2.