The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Zimbabwe heading towards the bottom

London: Anthony McGrath, as opposed to his namesake Glenn, would laugh at the idea that he belongs in the Test bowling rankings.

And Mark Butcher would surely grin broadly if he knew he is also rated among the worldís top 100 performers with the ball. Both Englishmen are batsmen who occasionally turn their arms over, normally in emergencies or at the end of a long day.

McGrath, according to the latest PricewaterhouseCoopers Test ratings, is a new entry at 84 after taking three for 16 on his debut against Zimbabwe at Lordís with his medium-paced wobblers.

Butcher is 73rd after taking four for 60 with his nibblers ó Nasser Hussain suggested Butcher operated at such a friendly pace that he would be allowed to bowl at 4 a.m. without there being an interruption for bad light.

In truth, however, the one-sided first Test was no laughing matter.

Zimbabwe were so poor against an understrength home team that it would be no surprise if the International Cricket Council retrospectively stripped the fixture of official Test status and relegated it to the English village competition.

In ideal seaming, swinging bowling conditions, the touring side allowed England to amass 472, then lost 19 wickets in a day to lose by an innings and 92 runs and go 0-1 down in the two-Test series.

Englandís rookie pace bowler James Anderson found his name added to the Lordís board of honour, celebrating those to take five wickets in an innings at the home of cricket, before the last rites were administered by Mr Wobbler and Mr Nibbler inside three days.

Zimbabwe deserve some sympathy. They have always been forced to squeeze a quart out of a pint pot, such are their limited cricketing resources. Political and social turmoil at home has made things worse still.

A string of international-class players, worried about their future, departed after the 1999 World Cup. The retirement of the black-armbanded Andy Flower after the 2003 World Cup was a desperate blow.

Lordís was their eighth Test loss in a row. Only basement team Bangladesh, with their run of 13 successive defeats, have ever fared worse.

Many observers feel that Bangladesh, yet to win a game, should never have been granted Test status in 2000.

Take them out of the equation, however, and Zimbabwe themselves would have won just one game in their last 31 Tests over four and a half years.

Even Andy Flower, who averaged more than 50 at the top level, could not paper over the widening gaps. In September 2001, he scored 142 and 199 in Harare against South Africa and Zimbabwe still contrived to lose by nine wickets.

If Zimbabwe looked like a one-man team then, they are beginning to look like a no-man team now. Only Heath Streak played to international standard last week.

The skipper might have expected a grilling after the game but the media, fearful of kicking a man when he is down, behaved as if they had unintentionally stumbled upon a private funeral.

Cricket, already burdened by the anti-climactic dominance of the Australians, dreams of widening its worldwide appeal from 10 Test-playing countries.

It simply cannot afford another team of dead ducks. It simply cannot afford Butcher and McGrath appearing in the bowling ratings.

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