Namibia prepares to slip into Zimbabwe for opener

Published: Sunday, February 9, 2003, 23:53 [IST]
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Harare: The minnows of Namibia must endure a World Cup baptism of fire and fear on Monday as it takes on Zimbabwe against a background of planned anti-government protests. With all the focus on whether World Cup games should be played here being permanently fixed on England's trials and tribulations, the Namibians are preparing to slip quietly into the country for its first ever tie in the tournament. But it could find itself in the eye of a storm.

On Saturday, just 48 hours before the clash at the Harare Sports Club, a Zimbabwean coalition of opposition groups claimed that 50 of its activists had been arrested during a series of protests - although police said only six people carrying placards were arrested. Planned demonstrations failed to take off in the capital, but National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) spokesman Doulgas Mwonzora said another demonstration was planned for Harare on Monday to coincide with the match. Namibia's state of mind would not have improved on hearing that later on Saturday, three leading lawmakers from Zimbabwe's main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were arrested as the authorities carried out their pledge to crack down on potential protests ahead of the six scheduled World Cup games in the country.

However, the Namibian team said that it was determined to concentrate on the game. "The Zimbabwe controversy has damaged the build-up to the World Cup but we have been determined to avoid all the fuss and are focused on our debut," team manager Francois Erasmus told. "We have no problems about playing here and are not concerned what the England and Wales Cricket Board has been doing, it's the Board's problem. "We enjoy good relations with the Zimbabwe Cricket Union and expect good support on and off the field."

Zimbabwe captain Heath Streak said that although Namibians will be rank outsiders having qualified for the World Cup via the ICC Trophy in 2001, his own team's experiences tell him not to underestimate its opponents. "We are treating this match exactly as if we were playing Pakistan or India," said Streak. "We have made a careful study of all their players and we are well prepared. We know we will have to play very good cricket to beat them. We are taking them very seriously as we have to."

Zimbabwe "A" toured Namibia recently with good results. But Namibia has caused problems for South African provincial sides and have done well in various South Africa-hosted tournaments. Zimbabwe will be relying heavily on the classy Flower brothers, Andy and Grant, for the bulk of its runs but it will also need more than one of its all-rounders to succeed. And it must find a good opening partnership, a weakness that was exposed last November by the Pakistan attack. In Andy Blignaut, Henry Olonga and Douglas Hondo it has a good new ball trio. They take wickets but can also be expensive.

The Namibians to watch are Danie Keulder, who has scored an ICC Trophy century and averages 32, Gavin Murgatroyd, another century maker with an average of 37 and medium pacer Rudie van Vuuren, whose bowling average is under 13. Van Vuuren played rugby for Namibia in the 1999 World Cup and his first appearance in this tournament will mean a unique double. Lennie Louw, coming up to 44 years old, has played first-class cricket for well over 20 years and is a more than useful spinner.

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