Zimbabwe confident of successful Lord's debut

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The Independent Online

Zimbabwe's Henry Olonga was momentarily stumped yesterday when a journalist set him a theoretical poser. "What would you rather achieve," the flamboyant bowler-cum-aspirant singer was asked. "To win the highest accolade in your sport or to have a No 1 record in the pop charts?"

Olonga paused for a moment before responding. "The thing about having a No 1 record is that it's a matter of other people's opinions," he said, "whereas doing well at your sport is more of a challenge to prove yourself, it's a more personal achievement."

The fact that Olonga and his team-mates will even be contesting tomorrow's first Test against England at Lord's is something of an achievement given the unsettling effects of the political and social turmoil back home in recent weeks.

Not only did the Zimbabweans experience a disappointing tour in the Caribbean (they suffered two Test defeats and four one-day losses) but several of the squad made nerve-racking, whistle-stop trips home between leaving the West Indies and arriving in England. The whole party has spent a large amount of time since arriving here waiting anxiously for news from home.

"We had a fragmented arrival here after the tour of the West Indies," Dan Stannard, Zimbabwe's tour manager, said yesterday. He was at pains to add, however, that he could not say that the unrest at home was the sole reason for the below-par displays in his side's opening matches against Hampshire and Kent.

"It would be very easy to blame our poor form in the first couple of matches on the situation at home, but in truth we've kept up to date with the situation daily and it has not affected morale negatively. If anything, the players are more motivated to do better, to give the people at home something to look forward to."

Stannard added that the spirit in the camp has improved in recent weeks in line with the team's form, not least because of one-day wins over Sussex and Essex. He also said that the last few days, especially the time spent in the secluded luxury of the Shenley cricketcentre in Hertfordshire had been very beneficial.

"Things are going very well indeed now," Stannard said. "We've settled into a nice rhythm, we've had the chance of some nice weather. We've got one more net tomorrow at Lord's and then Andy [Flowers, the team captain] will announce the team tomorrow night or on Thursday morning."

Flowers will have a full squad to select from, including the bowler Heath Streak, who proclaimed himself fit yesterday after a knee injury. "Andy wants to see what the weather's like and what the pitch is like, whether it's going to take swing or spin before he makes his final decision about the squad," Stannard said. "But the players just want to get out there now, enjoy the cricket and try to win."

Stannard is quietly confident about his country's debut Test in England, not least because England have won just one Test in the last 10 at Lord's. "The pressure is going to be on England. They've got everything to lose. We're obviously the underdogs and have everything to gain."