The England team which plays in this weekend's back-to-back one-day internationals against Zimbabwe should be picked with an eye on the fast-approaching Test series against South Africa.
Michael Vaughan's side are 2-0 up in this four-match series, but they have only 13 days to get themselves ready for a tough five-Test series against the Proteas. The winners of that contest will have the right to call themselves the second-best cricket team in the world.
But despite the importance of the next seven-and-a-half weeks England are in danger of arriving in Port Elizabeth on 17 December with their Test squad desperately short of match practice. Eight members of Vaughan's Test squad will have benefited from playing one-day cricket in Namibia and Zimbabwe, but the other eight have just started outdoor practice in Johannesburg.
Before the first Test England have only six days of competitive cricket, including this weekend's matches here, and this must be used to get the Test players into the sort of form which enabled them to win seven consecutive Tests against New Zealand and the West Indies during the summer.
Without wishing to be too harsh on Zimbabwe, whose teenage cricketers are trying hard, and showing glimpses of potential in difficult circumstances, England should win this series 4-0, no matter whom they select.
The performance of England's fast bowlers in South Africa, where the pitches suit the pace men, will be paramount. And this is why the tourists must play Simon Jones and James Anderson in both matches over the weekend.
Jones and Anderson will compete for the fourth seamer's spot at St George's Park - Stephen Harmison, Matthew Hoggard and Andrew Flintoff are certain to play - but Vaughan would want all five of his fast bowlers pushing for selection.
Jones did not play in Harare and Darren Gough should be dropped to accommodate the Glamorgan fast bowler. Gough looked innocuous on Saturday and Wednesday and there seems little point wasting valuable match practice on a player whose next competitive game is on 30 January 2005.
Vaughan admitted that the second phase of England's winter schedule was now taking preference over what takes place in Bulawayo. "I would like to see the players who are on the South African leg of the tour play," the England captain said. "We have an important Test series over there and I am sure Simon Jones will get a game of cricket at some stage of the weekend."
Anderson must also play in both matches. The Lancashire fast bowler played in England's two victories in Harare, but his bowling was disappointing. Anderson's aerodynamic features - he and Jones had their heads shaved earlier in the week - have not helped his accuracy but he needs to bowl. The 22-year-old conceded 16 wides in 17 overs against Zimbabwe, figures which suggest he is not in top form.
A green pitch at the Queen's Park Sports Club, along with the rain that fell yesterday afternoon, should provide the visitors' fast bowlers with perfect conditions in which to bowl.
England's batting line-up is unlikely to change today. Vaughan, Andrew Strauss, Paul Collingwood and Geraint Jones will all want at least one more innings before they return to Johannesburg, while the selectors will want to see as much as they can of Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen. Gareth Batty and Matthew Prior will probably have to wait until tomorrow to get their chance to shine.
"Ian and Kevin have come in and done very well," Vaughan said. "This tour has given us a chance to look at the way they play, train and react in the dressing-room. Both those players, along with Matthew Prior, have been very, very impressive."
Although Bell scored an accomplished 75 in the first one-dayer, it is the batting of Pietersen which has excited England supporters. The South African-born right-hander qualified for England in September and his selection has been eagerly awaited. In four seasons at Nottinghamshire he scored more than 8,000 runs and so far he has justified his selection.
"Kevin's innings of 77 the other day, and his statistics in county cricket, suggest he has got a future," Vaughan said. "He is a huge talent."
Zimbabwe's problems increased yesterday after three cricket administrators, including a national selector, were accused of demanding money from players at their club, ostensibly to influence their selection in national and provincial teams.
Players from the Takashinga club in Harare were allegedly being forced to remit 10 per cent of their Zimbabwe match-fees to the club to help with its future development. The Mashonaland Cricket Association, which oversees cricket in this region, argued that there was nothing wrong with the mandatory tithe expected from the Takashinga players and Zimbabwe Cricket has so far refused to comment on the issue.
No player has yet paid the levy, but Tatenda Taibu, the Zimbabwe captain, left the club a month ago.
Zimbabwe Cricket yesterday claimed that the cancelled first one-day international in Harare had cost it £425,000, a figure it is rumoured to be attempting to claim from the England and Wales Cricket Board.
The ECB claims the figure is much less, but has no intention of paying compensation. It believes the cancellation was the fault of the Zimbabwe government for refusing to give accreditation to 13 members of the British media.
England (v Zimbabwe at Queen's Sports Club, Bulawayo, from): I R Bell (Warwickshire), V S Solanki (Worcestershire), M P Vaughan (Yorkshire, capt), A J Strauss (Middlesex), K P Pietersen (Hampshire), P D Collingwood (Durham), G O Jones (Kent, wkt), A F Giles (Warwickshire), A G Wharf (Glamorgan), D Gough (Yorkshire), J M Anderson (Lancashire), S P Jones (Glamorgan), G J Batty (Worcestershire), M J Prior (Sussex).
Zimbabwe (from): T Taibu (capt & wkt), D Ebrahim, B Taylor, S Matsikenyeri, H Masakadza, M Vermeulen, E Chigumbura, V Sibanda, K Samunderu, D Hondo, T Panyangara, M Nkala, C Mpofu, E Rainsford, P Utseya, G Ewing.
Umpires: D B Hair (Aus) & I D Robinson (Zim)
Match referee: R S Mahanama (Sri Lanka).Reuse content