Cold discomfort for luckless Zimbabweans

Time is running out for Zimbabwe. The first Test against England is now just a fortnight away. But, if time is against them, the tourists' luck looks to be in an even worse plight if yesterday's goings-on were anything to go by.

Five players, including the captain Andy Flower, have been laid low by chills; in fact Flower had to pull out at the last minute yesterday, so bad did he feel. If that was not enough, the weather then robbed them of a further hour's valuable batting practice - five sessions having been lost in the opening match against Hampshire.

Inevitably, they lost wickets as well. "It is not ideal preparation," said Flower. "We batted very poorly, although I thought some of the lower-order guys revealed some good discipline and the youngsters showed some of the older guys how to play four-day cricket."

In fact the two teenagers, Tatenda Taibu, who is still only 16 and Mpumelelo Nkala, who is barely 19, provided some of the sternest resistance to a raw Kent attack in compiling a 30-run partnership for the ninth wicket.

While the paucity of runs could be attributed in part to some fine pace bowling by David Masters on his first-class debut, and later to a crafty spell from the slow left-armer Min Patel, the tourists found fortune in a fickle mood.

Heath Streak's dismissal was at best freakish, at worst downright hard luck. He drove hard to silly point where the ball struck Robert Key's heel and ballooned obligingly to present Patel with a simple caught and bowled.

Whatever they tried went wrong. Stuart Carlisle dug in well until he was in so deep that he could not climb out. Just about the first ball he got hold of, he cracked into the covers where Kent's captain Matthew Fleming dived to his right and pulled off a great catch.

It had been no better for Flower's brother Grant, who reached double figures scratchily at the start of the innings before becoming the first of Masters' four victims. The all-rounder Neil Johnson's poor trot continues. He has four ducks to his name in his last six innings and has yet to make a run on this tour.

The contrast with Kent's fortunes could not be more stark. They may have more than their fair share of injuries - their attack has come apart at the seams with five bowlers out of action for various reasons -- but Masters and his partner James Golding, playing only his second first-class match, did their county proud.

Golding may not have knocked over the batsmen, but nor did he get smacked around, while the 22-year-old Masters looks a tremendous prospect. Maintaining a great line and length and showing enormous discipline, he fully deserved his impressive 4 for 44 - an identical return to Patel's, although the former England spinner sent down a dozen more overs.

If there were any bright spots for Zimbabwe on a gloomy day then they came right at the end, first when Streak dismissed the opener Ed Smith, then when bad light granted them a merciful early finish and a welcome retreat to the warmth of the dressing room.

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