England's tour of Zimbabwe set to go ahead

Published: Thursday, November 25, 2004, 23:53 [IST]
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Harare:England's controversial 10-day tour of Zimbabwe was set to go ahead with the first One-day International on Friday amid calls in some quarters it should have been called off.

The England squad was due to arrive in Harare on Wednesday evening after the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) stated the tour would go ahead as scheduled despite the misgivings of several of the England team, and despite several English cricket journalists having their applications for accreditation turned down by the Mugabe government's information and publicity department.

Zimbabwe Cricket, the new name with a new logo emerging from the old Zimbabwe Cricket Union, has taken full page advertisements in national newspapers here boldly proclaiming the forthcoming tour by England.

Vikram Solanki of England will not be too pleased about being used symbolically in a huge picture as a departing batsman after falling victim to the newly grown-up Vusimusi Sibanda, a medium-pace part-time Zimbabwe bowler.

Zimbabwe Cricket, which in the last eight months has not been able to secure the return of its striking and sacked white team, has not only put its faith in a second string with an average age of 21, but is proclaiming that five international matches against England during the next 10 days as being the time when their collective apprenticeship is over and they become journeymen at least.

This is bold stuff after Zimbabwe lost their last two matches against Namibia by 100 runs and more, and following a long series of defeats since they were deprived of playing Test matches until they go to Bangladesh in January.

The Zimbabwe youngsters are merely the best team available in a shallow playing depth. Certainly not good enough to play Australia, Pakistan and England, all of whom postponed Test series against them recently -- with the blessing of the International Cricket Council (ICC), who gave them the six months from June to reach the required standard.

Zimbabwe have indeed beaten England in 50 over matches before. But a long time ago.

In 1991, just before their admittance to full membership of the ICC, they shocked England in Australia during a World Cup preliminary round. And in the 1996-97 season they whitewashed England 3-0. But England have won here by 5-0 and 3-0 since then, in February 2000 and October 2001.

Another five-match annihiliation by Michael Vaughan's men -- even without Andrew Flintoff and Stephen Harmison -- seems a near certainty.

Much depends on the England attitude of mind. For almost two years the debate about going to Zimbabwe has raged in their minds and over their heads.

They did not fulfil a World Cup fixture here in February last year, which probably cost them a place in the second stage because of forefeited points.

The length and intensity of the argument may have damaged their form. But on the other hand it might stimulate a "let's get this over with quickly" attitude, resulting in some spectacular performances.

Vikram Solanki, for one, will be looking for big scores, not least against Sibanda. And the atmosphere will certainly not be over-friendly.

Zimbabwe have surprisingly brought in Hamilton Masakadza, susprising even though he was the youngest scorer of a Test century -- against West Indies here -- before his 18th birthday. But he has played little cricket since.

Another omission of note is the big-hitting Alester Maregwede, who scored well against Sri Lanka in May, but has performed poorly in domestic cricket recently.

Zimbabwe: Tatenda Taibu (capt), Dion Ebrahim, Brendan Taylor, Stuart Masikenyere, Mark Vermeulen, Hamilton Masakadza, Elton Chigumbura, Vusimusi Sibanda, Kukakwashe Samundero, Douglas Hondo, Tinashe Panyangara, Mluleki Nkala, Chris Mpofu, Edward Rainsford, Prosper Utseya, Gavin Ewing. Manager Babu Meman.

England: Michael Vaughan (capt), Vikram Solanki, Andrew Strauss, Paul Collingwood, Geraint Jones, Ashley Giles, James Anderson, Gareth Batty, Darren Gough, Alex Wharf, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Simon Jones, Matthew Prior. Manager Duncan Fletcher.

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