Byline: DAVID HOPPS in Harare, Zimbabwe
ACCOLADES on the England A tour of Zimbabwe have consistently gone to batsmen blessed with a succession of flat pitches. Unbeaten centuries yesterday for Surrey's Darren Bicknell and Gavin Briant, once of Worcestershire second XI, continued the trend.
As the tourists' fixture against Zimbabwe B meandered to a predictable draw, A C Smith, the Test and County Board's chief executive, arrived to nod official approval.
One of the tour's chief benefits is that bowlers, denied the artificial stimuli of county cricket's poor-quality pitches and high-seamed ball, are having to undergo a dose of cold turkey.
The Kookaburra ball is adding to their discomfiture. It rapidly loses its shine on the tough African grass, becomes soft surprisingly quickly, and its seam after 50 overs is barely discernible.
No one has struggled more to adjust than Glamorgan's seam bowler Steve Watkin, whose 94 first-class victims last season made him the country's joint leading wicket-taker. However one delivery yesterday, an off-cutter which came back to flick Wayne James's leg bail, will encourage him.
England, 175 ahead overnight, declared once Bicknell had achieved his first century of the tour in 163 balls. He relies on a limited range of strokes, but struck the ball cleanly, lifting the off-spinner Du Preez for six over extra cover and hoisting Ethan Dube high over square leg.
Rhodes also played soundly, a fact which assumes more importance with Michael Atherton and Derek Pringle both doubtful for the final five-day international.
Zimbabwe B's requirement of 311 in 65 overs was never a serious proposition and once Briant had reached his century a draw was soon agreed.
ENGLAND: First innings 329-5 dec (J J Whitaker 186; G P Thorpe 55)
ZIMBABWE: First innings 198 (W James 78).
ENGLAND Second innings (overnight: 44-1) D J Bicknell not out . 101.
S J Rhodes not out 65.
Extras (b2, lb4, w1, nb4) 11.
Total (for 1 dec) 179.
Did not bat: *J J Whitaker, R J Blakey, G P Thorpe, R K Illingworth, M P Bicknell, D V Lawrence, S L Watkin, J A Afford.
Bowling: Dube 15-2-44-0; Crocker 8-5-5-1; Du Preez 6-0-31-0; Lake 12-5-26-0; Dolphin 4-0-26-0; Brent 4-0-30-0; Butchart 1.3-0-11-0.
ZIMBABWE Second innings
R Brown b M P Bicknell 23.
G K Bruk-Jackson c Illingworth b Watkin 23.
G Briant not out 103.
W James b Watkin 0.
I P Butchart c Stephenson b Illingworth 21.
G Crocker c D J Bicknell b Illingworth 23.
*J P Brent not out 2.
Extras (b3, lb2, nb7) 12.
Total (for 5) 207.
Fall of wickets: 32, 68, 70, 122, 195.
Did not bat: G Du Preez, D F Dolphin, D B Lake, E Dube.
Bowling: Lawrence 11-0-44-0; Bicknell 7-1-19-1; Watkin 10-0-42-2; Afford 13-3-56-0; Illingworth 16-4-41-2.