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The Chinaman cometh

February 25, 2003 13:28 IST
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Brad Hogg's removal of Andy Flower was the highlight of a match that began nervously and started to relax as threatened protests petered out after 33 placard-carrying students were arrested whilst trying to enter the ground. Thankfully, they were later released, but the clampdown gave the game a heavy backdrop.

Hogg came on to bowl as the Zimbabwean innings was gathering momentum after another shaky opening from a brittle top order. The Flower brothers had responded capably to their team's predicament only for their partnership to be cut short as the younger sibling failed to follow the instructions of his elder, a turn of events that did not please Andy all that much. Not for the first time in Zimbabwean cricket everything seemed to depend upon Andy Flower, whose position in the side had not been settled till late the previous night after his Board had tried to force its selection committee to leave him out for disciplinary reasons.

Rather than taking umbrage, Flower senior set about rebuilding the innings and unfurled some lovely cover drives during an impressive performance. Men like Flower can put different parts of their lives in different places and concentrate upon matters in hand. After surviving the onslaught from the Australian pacemen he must have thought the worst was over. An adroit player of spin and a better sweeper than Mrs. Mop, Flower began tucking the ball away with deflections and swift running between wickets. He looked settled at the crease as Andrew Symonds wheeled away and Hogg rushed around bowling his apparently innocent offerings.

Hogg lacks the mystique and menace of his predecessor from Victoria. Rather, he has the air of an energetic competitor, happy to be in the side and gradually getting over the surprise of finding himself playing in this company. He belongs in a Midsummer Night's Dream. Hitherto Hogg's bosie has bewildered lots of Englishmen but Flower has scored hundreds of runs against Sri Lanka and has won duels with all the great spinners of the era. Over the years he has proved harder to fool than a seasoned detective. Accordingly, this crafty customer was not expected to have any particular difficulty reading Hogg from the hand.

Flower appeared serene against Australia's purveyor of Chinamen as he kept Glenn McGrath busy on the fine leg boundary. Zimbabwe was starting to move again and Flower had regained his composure after reacting furiously to the errant ways of his younger brother. Perhaps the sight of his father pushing a pram occupied by his son Sam calmed the former captain, for there is nothing is more calculated to keep a man at the crease than the recollection that changing nappies sits high amongst the alternatives.

Hogg began his second over and decided to try a flipper, a sign that his confidence is rising. Seeing the ball dropping shorter than usual, Flower stepped back with intent. Under the impression the ball would spin away from him, this accomplished practitioner prepared to cut. Rather than bouncing invitingly the ball skidded through upon landing and made a dash for the stumps. Flower had no time to respond to this changed set of circumstances. He had taken his man for granted and had no fallback position. In a trice Flower was cut down. To the bowler's unhidden delight the ball crashed into the top of the stumps whereupon Hogg pumped the ground like his fast bowling friend from Wollongong.

It was a beautiful piece of bowling. Nothing is more enjoyable for spectators and leather-flingers alike that to see a top man bamboozled. Indeed, this is the very point of wrist-spin and the reason these long-suffering characters work hard to master their calling. After a long fallow period Australia has found some Chinamen -- just do not tell Ms Hanson. Simon Katich is improving and Bo Casson has been taking wickets for the sandgropers. Not long ago it was hard to imagine this style of bowling ever reappearing but, then, much the same was said about the right-handed version till a certain straw-top appeared on the scene. Australia must consider taking Hogg and Katich to the West Indies and could easily have chosen the adopted New South Welshman to replace Warne had he been included in their squad.

Thanks to this wicket, and notwithstanding full-blooded hitting from Andy Blignaut, Australia comfortably secured its fourth win. Ricky Ponting's team was not at its best, especially towards the end of the Zimbabwean innings. Nor was the middle-order batting entirely convincing. At least the match was played. Australia had no reason to regret its visit to Bulawayo.

After Kenya's remarkable victory over Sri Lanka it is clear that this tournament has been distorted by the refusal of teams to fulfill their fixtures as directed by the game's governing body. As a result the last six places will not be occupied by the best six teams. Africa is entitled to feel indignant. Nothing has happened at any of the matches to deter visitors. Not that the Australians need worry. Ponting's main concern must be that Michael Beavan has not batted for a long time. Happily his players were put under some pressure in Bulawayo and some ringrust was exposed.

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