Gunship welcome for the seemingly invincible Aussies

Published: Monday, February 24, 2003, 5:06 [IST]
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Bulawayo: World champions Australia flew into Bulawayo on Sunday to the twin sounds of Matabele children performing a traditional welcome dance on the tarmac and the deafening roar of a helicopter gunship hovering above. Ricky Ponting's men, who play Zimbabwe on Monday in the World Cup, arrived in a specially chartered Boeing 737 and were then given an armed escort into the city centre, some 20 kilometres away.

Australian skipper Ricky Ponting said he didn't see any of the long petrol queues or the anti-Robert Mugabe graffiti on the walls, but he could not have failed to notice the helicopter above their coach and the motorcycle escort front and back when they were taken to the Queens Sports Club ground for a quick practice session. The Australians, unlike England who boycotted its game in Harare, have made it clear they want to be in and out of Zimbabwe as quickly as possible and Ponting was offering no excuses for the flying visit. "Our stay is short because a lot of things are happening and it reduces the chance of anything else happening," he said of their stay, which represents a halfway house between a boycott, where they would lose the points, and a normal stay of three days.

"It means a lack of preparation time because we will only be here for 30 hours or so," said the skipper who was informed that Monday's match will be played against a background of a planned demonstration by clergymen taking place outside the ground. As far as the game was concerned, Ponting said he planned to play a full-strength side and added he had great respect for the Zimbabweans. "They always give 100 per cent. They also have world-class players so we'll have to be at our best." Zimbabwe could be without the services of all-rounder Grant Flower who hurt his spinning finger against India in Harare last week.

If he is not fit, Zimbabwe will probably replace him with one of two all-rounders - either Travis Friend or Douglas Marillier. The weather has also cleared up and the ground has dried out and unless there is considerable rain overnight, the match will go ahead as scheduled. Copyright AFP 2001

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