Zimbabwe take heart from England record

Zimbabwe have come to the triangular one-day tournament with a reluctant captain, no form and less flair. They probably think England are there for the taking.

Zimbabwe have come to the triangular one-day tournament with a reluctant captain, no form and less flair. They probably think England are there for the taking.

Little on the field and not much more on paper suggests that the Zimbabweans can win sufficient matches to reach the final of this series. Their defeat to South Africa in the opening tie was their 10th in 12 matches since last summer's World Cup.

Since the victories were against Sri Lanka, in the dead match of a series, and Kenya, this does not speak of a side which is exactly full of beans.

Most of their players are prosaically homogeneous, bat a bit, bowl a bit, field a bit, go back to the farm. If this used to be a strength because of what it did for team unity, it seems to be a fading one.

Late last year their captain, Alistair Campbell, resigned. The former holder of the office, the batsman-wicketkeeper, Andrew Flower, took over, but only temporarily because of his other duties. He is still captain.

Yet it is the bit on paper which ought to gnaw at England when the sides meet here tonight. Zimbabwe will be fuelled by their previous record. In all seven matches between them since 1992, Zimbabwe have been second favourites but in five of them they have packed the sling and stone and hit the opposition firmly between the eyes. As it happens, they have their own David.

David Houghton was captain when they beat England in the 1992 World Cup. His team made a meagre 135 and then dismissed England for 125. He is still there today as coach and, while he did not underestimate the size of his charges' task yesterday, he took heart from the past. "We're probably the worst of the sides here and to go anywhere we've got to win at least once against England this weekend. It's confidence and having a small squad. You can replace one player but if three are out it's difficult. But we know we have beaten them in Africa before."

Indeed, they have. Zimbabwe won the 1997 home one-day series 3-0. England were abject then. They dealt with Zimbabwe easily enough in last year's World Cup but there is still previous to overcome.

There are two key Zimbabweans. Heath Streak, the fast bowler, is back from injury to add some bite to the attack and Neil Johnson is an excellent batsman on his day. Given the nature of his home pitches, Cape Town's slow outfield may be to his liking.

England's nerves will barely have calmed after their gripping one-run defeat against South Africa on Wednesday. But it is now time to turn their attention to Zimbabwe. Between now and June the two are scheduled to meet at least 10 times in all. By then we will all have had enough.

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