England's opening batsman Ian Bell declared after his match-winning 75 on Sunday that he rated Zimbabwe to be about the level of an English county team.
Zimbabwe scored 195 in their innings, a respectable total by the largely inexperienced youngsters filling the breach left by their striking and sacked predecessors.
England only surpassed that with 14 balls to spare and with the loss of five wickets, notably four middle order wickets for only 43 runs.
It was nowhere near the decisive victory that England captain Michael Vaughan and most observers here expected.
Vaughan promised a hard workout after commenting that the new ball had not been placed "as well as it should have been" and there had been too many errors in the field.
At least he did not offer any excuses about the political problems preceding the tour, nor did he complain about any lack of practice.
But England coach Duncan Fletcher said the lead-up to the tour had affected his players' performance on Sunday.
"The guys were very nervous and there was a strange feeling in the camp because of all the build-up," Fletcher told journalists Tuesday, adding that he expected "significant improvement" in the second one-dayer.
But after a round of golf and a visit to a market "they were getting to be more relaxed. In training afterwards there was a good energy about it," Fletcher said.
Bell also said that he felt "very comfortable" in Harare.
All 14 England players are believed to be fit and available for selection. The question is whether places can be found for Matthew Prior, Gareth Batty or Simon Jones.
Nothing less than a comprehensive win at Harare Sports Club will satisfy Vaughan and manager Duncan Fletcher, the large contingent of English cricket writers and commentators, and their supporters back home who have come to expect much from England since a highly successful summer there.
There is no "barmy army" from England. That will be South Africa's pleasure next week.
Zimbabwe are in a "nothing to lose" mode. They were sharp in the field on Sunday and their bowling was of a better standard than in recent months, thanks largely to West Indian coach Phil Simmons. There is just one concern, the fitness of paceman Edward Rainsford, who had to miss the first match.
Much depends on their notoriously fragile top order batting on a wicket that is similar to that of the first match, true and easy paced.
The teams will not be announced until just before the start of play Wednesday.
Zimbabwe: (from) Tatenda Taibu (capt), Dion Ebrahim, Brendan Taylor, Stuart Matsikenyere, Mark Vermeulen, Hamilton Masakadza, Elton Chigumbura, Kudakwashe Samunderu, Vusimusi Sibanda, Douglas Hondo, Tinashe Panyangara, Mluleki Nkala, Chris Mpofu, Edward Rainsford, Proper Utseya, Gavin Ewing
England: (from) 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.