Monday 6 August 2007

Zimbabwe: All set for the inaugural tour

Itayi Viriri

May 14, 2000

Zimbabwe faces England in the first Cornhill Insurance Test match at Lord's this week in what has been, for over a century, a traditional and much coveted northern summer fixture.

Zimbabwe, however, go into the Test with a poor record over the past six months that has seen them lose four Test series against Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and the West Indies.

Local cricket followers will be hoping that Zimbabwe's return to the scene of one their most heroic performances since attaining Test status will spur them to winning ways.

Zimbabwe will be buoyed on by the fact that some of its players are familiar with the playing conditions in England, not least of which is Neil Johnson, who produced a sterling unbeaten 132 against Australia at Lord's in the 1999 World Cup.

With that impressive 132 not out, Johnson joined a select band of players in the modern era who have scored an unbeaten century and also to bat through an innings at Lord's.

Johnson, however, is not alone in his knowledge of the English conditions. There is also Heath Streak and the Flower brothers, Andy and Grant, who have had stints in the English county and league cricket.

After suffering a disconcerting innings loss to Kent in a four-day match, Zimbabwe managed to come back strongly with victories in limited-overs matches over county sides, Sussex and Essex.

In the victory over Sussex, Johnson scored a century, whilst the likes of Murray Goodwin and the Flower brothers have been posting some positive totals with the bat. With Streak having gained full match fitness, Zimbabwe's bowling attack should produce the goods.

If they harbour any hopes of upsetting the hosts, Zimbabwe, now under Andy Pycroft, a former national team player and convener of selectors, will have to exorcise their tendency of choking when victory is in sight.

England has played Zimbabwe in a Test series once in Zimbabwe in the 1997/98 season. Back then, the two Tests were drawn, but the series was not short of entertainment as the then England coach David Lloyd gained notoriety with his bitter and undiplomatic 'We murdered them' tirade in the English press. Lloyd had to swallow more than his pride as his side was later thrashed 3-0 in the limited-overs series.

Despite the fact that in recent years, England has dropped to the basement of Test cricket, playing against them at Lord's gives the Test glamour as the ground is widely regarded as the `home of cricket'.

It has taken Zimbabwe only eight years since gaining Test status to play at Lord's when it has taken other Test nations longer.

In any case, playing at Lord's should prove enough incentive for the Zimbabweanplayers to play better cricket than they have in the last few months.

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