Aussies keen to hide the frustration

Published: Wednesday, May 12, 2004, 23:53 [IST]
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Sydney:Australia leave for Zimbabwe trying to blot out the probable futility of the Test series that stretches before them.

Harare has been convulsed for weeks by unresolved warfare between players and officials and a boycott of the national team by 15 rebel cricketers at odds with the Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU).

As the dominant force in world cricket, the Australians are more than likely going to face a second-string Zimbabwean team, which succumbed meekly by an innings and 240 to Sri Lanka in Harare earlier this month - a match in which Sri Lankan spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan set a new world record for Test wickets with 521.

Although the ZCU has sacked 15 rebels who have boycotted the national team, it has since indicated the door remains open for them to return.

Australian skipper Ricky Ponting said he was heartened by the reports, but said on Wednesday that his team was determined to maintain its high standards against whatever the quality of opposition.

"We still don't know who we will be playing, the events seem to be changing every day," Ponting said in Brisbane on Wednesday.

"We can't afford to worry about these things. It's completely out of our control.

"We just have to play the best cricket we possibly can and, if it's against a second-rate team, then hopefully we can finish the games quickly."

Controversy had struck the tour even before the latest unrest, with Australian leg-spinner Stuart MacGill announcing he would not be available for selection on moral grounds to tour the Robert Mugabe-governed republic.

"I have given this a lot of thought over a long period of time and personally do not believe the situation in Zimbabwe is such that I can tour at this stage," MacGill said late last month.

Senior batsman Darren Lehmann is another who has misgivings about touring, saying he would be lying if he said there were no concerns about going there.

Team coach John Buchanan said the Australian side, to play two Tests and three One-day Internationals, would conduct their four-week tour with a clear conscience despite the fragile political climate in Zimbabwe.

Buchanan played down the concerns. "I wouldn't think there is any concern," he said. "Cricket Australia and virtually all the information we have from a security point of view has allayed anybody's fears.

"I'm sure every player and all of us think about the issues and have come to their own conclusions but in the end we're invited there as cricketers."

It was reported in Sydney on Wednesday that Australian players' advocate Tim May had flown to Dubai in an attempt to convince the International Cricket Council to intervene in the Zimbabwe team crisis.

The Australian newspaper reported that May would meet ICC operations manager Dave Richardson in Dubai on Friday hoping the game's governing body could resolve the Zimbabwe situation.

Australia begin their Zimbabwe tour with a three-day match against Zimbabwe 'A' on Monday.

The likelihood of the two Test matches being drastically lopsided raises the prospect that master leg-spinner Shane Warne could overtake Muralitharan's new world record.

Warne has 517 wickets and finished his comeback series in Sri Lanka following an year's drug ban with 26 wickets in three Tests last March.

Buchanan said Murali's world record had further "fuelled the fires" of Warne, currently playing County cricket in England with Hampshire.

In MacGill's absence, selectors have given 20 year old leg-spinner Cameron White, a Victorian state teammate of Warne, his first taste of touring with an Australian Test squad.

The tour will also mark the comeback of premier paceman Glenn McGrath after a nine-month layoff for an ankle injury.

Australia-team: Ricky Ponting (capt), Adam Gilchrist (vice-capt), Jason Gillespie, Matthew Hayden, Simon Katich, Michael Kasprowicz, Damien Martyn, Glenn McGrath, Justin Langer, Darren Lehmann, Shane Warne, Cameron White, Brad Williams.

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