Cricket: Rain threatens to ruin tour opener

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The Independent Online
RAIN IS threatening to scupper England A's opening match of their tour of Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Floods have been affecting Zimbabwe since September and the latest downpour has raised a question mark against the opening fixture against a Country Districts XI in south Harare today.

Arriving in a miserably wet Zimbabwean capital, the touring England party must have wondered whether they had actually touched down in Manchester.

Preparations for the tour have been disrupted but, according to the manager, Phil Neale, not as badly as might have been the case.

"Obviously we could have done better but, remarkably, we only lost one day out of the first five when we had to go indoors for a gym session," he said.

"The rest of the time, thanks to a lot of hard work by ground staff, we've either had a middle practice or nets, so we haven't done too badly."

Neale regards this tour as being an important bridge between county cricket and the Test arena.

"There is already a good team spirit, their ability is undoubted and it's just a case of getting used to the different conditions here to reproduce that ability.

"If the players can do that, then there's no reason why they should not be successful. Having said that, we're not going to take Zimbabwe lightly. There are some quite talented players in Zimbabwe, so we have to play really well to come out with a win, but we're confident we can do that."

England A have two fitness doubts for the opening fixture. Yorkshire left-arm opening bowler Paul Hutchison and Durham pace bowler Steve Harmison are both suffering from back stiffness and were unable to bowl in the final net session.

The match against Country Districts is not being regarded as a gentle pipe-opener. It is a side chosen from those not resident in the capital and includes seven players with Test experience.

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