England leave bridge building for another day

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The Independent Online

When England first came to Zimbabwe four years ago they were the guests from hell. It would be tempting say they were the type who came to your party, drank all you booze, ate all your canapés, were sick in the lounge and dug up the lawn on the way out, except that they never seemed to leave their hotel rooms to attend any parties.

When England first came to Zimbabwe four years ago they were the guests from hell. It would be tempting say they were the type who came to your party, drank all you booze, ate all your canapés, were sick in the lounge and dug up the lawn on the way out, except that they never seemed to leave their hotel rooms to attend any parties.

Occasionally, they were forced to emerge to play the odd game and did so churlishly. After they failed to win the first Test here, the scores finishing level after a frenetic runs chase, the coach of the time, David Lloyd, famously and misguidedly insisted to anybody who would listen: "We flippin' murdered 'em." England then deservedly lost the one-day series 3-0. Now, that was murder.

Diplomacy can be the only reason for England's return now, at the end of a long tour and in the Zimbabwean rainy season. Nobody, certainly not the players on either side who have all taken part in an exhausting triangular tournament in South Africa and have intense, much more meaningful schedules ahead, can possibly want to play four one-day matches in eight days. The first is today.

This was an excursion made for the start of the tour when a Test could have been thrown in as well. As it is, England are tired, Zimbabwe are tired and by the end of the summer when Zimbabwe will have played two Test matches and three more one-dayers against England in England, we will all, most definitely, be tired.

The bridge building, fence mending and general air of relationship reconstruction had better be good. If the threatened rain arrives there will be plenty of time for it. There seemed to be a somewhat shaky start when Duncan Fletcher, England's coach, senior ambassador and successor to Lloyd, who is here in his capacity as a television commentator, was approached for an interview upon arrival in his hotel.

He might have said, for instance, how delighted he was to be back in his home country and how he hoped the forthcoming series would take peoples' minds off the Zimbabwe's inflationary turmoil. According to the Bulawayo Chronicle, he replied: "We played up close to midnight and were up early to prepare for this trip. We are tired, my friend, we need time to rest. Best you talk to our press liaison man, Dave Clarke." No harm done, his tiredness was understandable, but it was hardly nailing the first stay in the bridge.

Nasser Hussain, refreshed after a day's rest, did better yesterday afternoon in finding a more apposite timbre. He will have happier memories than some of the previous visit because he scored a hundred in the Test here and a half-century in the one-dayer.

"Some of the stuff that happened was a bit over-hyped," he said. "There were a couple of things that people made a lot of. We plan to do what we did in South Africa, play entertaining cricket, go to official functions.

"I will be honest and say it's been a long, hard tour. But we've practised well today and have now to play four games in eight days. There are all the usual clichés about playing for your country but there are many worse things we could be doing than playing cricket in Zimbabwe."

Not playing cricket, in the event of rain, will test their resolve more. Hussain insisted, as ever, that there was always the chance of learning something about players in the series - "That only takes 10 minutes."

It would not prove much if they win, it would not disprove much if they lose. Just keep smiling, boys, and enjoy it.

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