England off to flying start
England’s combination of county players and international stars teamed up to complete an emphatic 50-run triumph over Zimbabwe in their opening match of the ICC World Twenty20.
Utilising a blend of Twenty20 domestic specialists and the nucleus of their one-day international side, England proved too strong for Zimbabwe just 24 hours after their shock victory over Australia.
Having set a challenging total of 188 for nine - which included Kevin Pietersen’s first half-century of his Twenty20 international career - Zimbabwe slumped to 138 for seven in reply despite a 74-run opening stand in only eight overs.
If Pietersen provided the international sparkle with his innings of 79 off 37 balls, including seven fours and four sixes, it was two less celebrated members of England’s line-up who smothered Zimbabwe’s positive start.
Hampshire all-rounder Dimitri Mascarenhas, who has just established himself in England’s one-day international side this summer and only included in this squad because of an injury to Ryan Sidebottom, continued his progress by grabbing 3-18.
But the most remarkable performance of the day was delivered by leg-spinner Chris Schofield, who claimed 2-15 on his England return just two years after being forced to make his living as a painter and decorator after being released by Lancashire.
Their efforts ensured an impressive all-round display for England in their opening match of the tournament and providing they do not lose heavily to Australia on Friday, should ensure their progress into the second stage of the competition.
Like Australia the night before, who also won the toss and decided to bat, England struggled during the early overs of fielding restrictions and lost opener Darren Maddy in the third over when he was caught at mid-off for 14.
Sussex’s Luke Wright, brought into the side for his explosive strokeplay, followed next ball when he attempted to drive a wide delivery from seamer Elton Chigumbura and edged behind.
The hat-trick ball was blocked by Pietersen but three overs later England lost Matt Prior, caught at long on just two balls after hitting his first six to help him score 14 off 20 balls.
Pietersen found a willing partner in Collingwood and the pair ensured England reached a commanding total with a thrilling 100-run stand off only 53 balls.
Pietersen signalled his intentions by hitting Tatenda Taibu for six over over long on in the sixth over and then really got going by hitting left-arm spinner Keith Dabengwa for 22 in one over, including a six and two fours off successive balls.
He brought up his half-century off only 27 balls but missed out on becoming the first England batsman to hit a Twenty20 hundred when he was caught on the boundary attempting another reverse pull.
Pietersen was followed four balls later by Collingwood, run out for 36 off 27 balls pushing for a second run, leaving England on a promising 153 for five with five overs remaining.
Instead of building on that promising foundation, however, they suffered a middle-order collapse by losing four wickets in the next two overs.
Andrew Flintoff, who passed a fitness test on his troublesome left ankle to play, hit one six in his 13 before being bowled by seamer Justice Chibabha and Chigumbura cleaned up with two more wickets to dismiss Owais Shah and Mascarenhas to claim 4-31.
England’s total looked beyond Zimbabwe until they began their reply and openers Vusimusi Sibanda and Brendan Taylor, man-of-the-match against Australia, combined in a stunning opening stand.
Lancashire seamer James Anderson was withdrawn from the attack after his first over went for 16 runs while Stuart Broad’s three-over opening spell cost 27 runs.
It took the combination of Mascarenhas and Schofield to apply the brakes to Zimbabwe’s early assault and effectively break their challenge with the loss of five wickets in a five over spell.
Having charged to 57 without loss during the first six overs of fielding restrictions, the introduction of England’s less celebrated pair of bowlers allowed Zimbabwe to add only 33 runs in the next eight overs and also lose five wickets.
Mascarenhas’ variety of pace accounted for Sibanda, caught in the deep attempting to hit over the top, for 29 off 25 balls and former captain Taibu was bowled attempting a slog across the line.
The key wicket, though, was that of Taylor after he had progressed to 47 off 39 balls, including four fours and two sixes, who was bowled by Mascarenhas’ slower ball.
Spurred on by Mascarenhas’ success, Schofield claimed his first ever England wicket, seven years after playing his only two Tests, when Stuart Matsikenyeri was caught in the deep by former county colleague Flintoff.
He claimed his second victim in the next over, taking a sharp return catch off Chibhabha, to complete his stunning return and effectively settle the issue.
A victory over Australia will ensure England progress to the next round. If they lose they could still go through, providing they do not lose by an even bigger margin than that by which triumphed today, which would allow Australia and Zimbabwe to go through on greater run-rate.