England left irritated by use of Bell interview

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The England and Wales Cricket Board have taken exception to an article in a Zimbabwe newspaper, believed to be under the control of Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF government.

The England and Wales Cricket Board have taken exception to an article in a Zimbabwe newspaper, believed to be under the control of Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF government. The story in The Herald newspaper, under the headline "England players appreciate Zimbabwe", came after an interview on Monday with Warwickshire's Ian Bell.

This issue will not threaten England's controversial tour of Zimbabwe even though it is another attempt to use the trip as a means of promoting the country.

The article started by saying: "One by one the England cricket players are beginning to queue to give their approval of their tour to this country. The trip to Zimbabwe for a one-day international cricket series had been shrouded in controversy for quite some time and the impression was that none of the players on the touring party was willing to be in this country."

The Herald reached this conclusion after Bell stated that he was "pleasantly surprised" by what he had seen in Zimbabwe and that he would "like to come back and play some more".

In reaction to these comments an ECB spokesman said: "We are very disappointed in the way they have chosen to politicise what was essentially and ordinary piece of sightseeing. Nothing Ian Bell said was intended as a political comment. We are very disappointed in the way this has been reported by the newspaper."

The article, and the reaction by the ECB, will have done little to help Michael Vaughan's side concentrate on today's second one-day international against Zimbabwe in Harare. Indeed, Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, felt that the stress of the last week was one of the reasons for their mediocre performance on Sunday.

"I would like to have won the first game by seven rather than five wickets," said Fletcher. "But there was a strange feeling within the team before Sunday's game. The guys were pretty nervous before the start and there was a lot of pressure on the team. They are on a tour that has received a lot of criticism. But the players attitudes changed as the day progressed. You could see that in the dressing room."

Fletcher has had a difficult week but his problems appear minor compared to those facing his counterpart, Phil Simmons. Zimbabwe Cricket has had a disastrous year. Allegations of racism in the selection of the national side caused many of its top players - including Heath Streak, Ray Price, Andy Blignaut and Grant Flower - to go on strike and most of the 14 rebels will never play for Zimbabwe again.

Zimbabwe Cricket then pre-empted the International Cricket Council and asked to be suspended from Test cricket whilst they sorted themselves out. During this period their coach, Geoff Marsh, quit.

Yet despite all these hindrances, and 14 consecutive one-day defeats, Simmons, the former West Indian all-rounder, remains enthusiastic about his sides chances of causing an upset. "It is possible," he said. "England are not a bad one-day side, but the absence of Andrew Flintoff, Stephen Harmison and Marcus Trescothick gives us a chance. We saw that in the last game and I am looking to win one out of the next three.

"We have improved since the Champions Trophy in September, and that is all I can ask for. There is an enormous amount of talent here and the Under 19 side give you hope."

One of Zimbabwe's brightest young stars is Elton Chigumbura. The 18 year all-rounder highlighted his potential when he scored 77 against Australia in May. Since then he has scored two fifties and an unbeaten 42 in his last five innings.

"In the last three years I have coached two cricketers who I feel will go on to be world-beaters," said Simmons. "One was Dwayne Bravo (the exciting West Indian all-rounder) and the other is Elton. I think in a couple of years time he could be one of the better all-rounders."

Darren Gough has been suffering from a stomach upset since the weekend but England are set to pick the same side that won on Sunday.