Wildebeest, impala and Balderdash

Storm warnings put the pressure on England for quick results as the serious business of the winter tour approaches; Nick Knight the England opener, enjoys the run-up towards the first Test

Balderdash is sweeping the England party here in Bulawayo. This is, of course, the well-known word game in which competitors must guess the proper definitions of obscure words. Nearly all the squad have had a bash at Balderdash - it is similar to the television quiz show Call My Bluff - and on most evenings there has been a large amount of highly organised catachrestical behaviour.

Well, it's important to do something in those periods which exclude cricket, when we are not playing the game or talking about it. The game is so concentrated here that we have already played against the vast majority of players likely to make the Zimbabwean Test side, unless, that is, their selectors have some real surprises up their sleeves.

It has given England the opportunity to discuss individual players in some detail, how their bowlers should be played, how their batsmen might be dismissed.

This is probably the only tour where that can happen quite so exhaustively. Since we had come across so few of the Zimbabwean players before this tour, maybe it has also been of increased significance.

The four-day game against Matabeleland also gave us the chance to run into some proper form. We were not too worried about our low-key start and our morale has never been less than high. But all the batsmen managed to spend useful time at the crease during the final game before the internationals and Darren Gough bowled with real menace.

On a personal level, it was gratifying for me to score the side's first first-class century of the tour in the first innings. I felt pretty good on a pitch which had a bit of bounce, and it can have done no harm to have faced Heath Streak and Henry Olonga, the partnership which could form the Zimbabwean new-ball attack. It was the 14th first-class hundred of my career - which is perhaps not as many as it should be - and the focus is now firmly on trying to acquire the 15th in the first Test, which starts this week.

This acclimatisation period has involved nothing so bizarre as the weather. We were aware that it was the rainy season here but were perhaps not quite so prepared for the nature of the rain.

It can be piercingly hot for much of the day and then a storm brews. And what storms. Water pours in torrents to such levels that if it fell at Edgbaston in early June you would not think of playing again till late August, with or without an umbrella. Yet an hour later these rivers have disappeared, the card school's over and you're back on the field.

If life has revolved largely round going from hotel to ground and ground to hotel - a combination of cricket and Balderdash, you might say - there has been a little time to explore some of this astonishing country. Jack Russell and I travelled the 50 kilometres or so to the grave of Cecil Rhodes, both armed with palette and brushes.

As the grave of the man who was so fundamental in establishing this country, it is neither spectacular nor ornate. But it is surrounded by some breathtaking scenery. Jack painted one of his hallmark landscapes, I concentrated on the grave site and the rock formations which screen it.

I am not in Jack's class as an artist but I find it tremendously relaxing and totally absorbing. It takes my mind away from cricket, which is occasionally healthy on a long tour, and for a few hours I enter my own private world. The watercolour set I brought with me should earn its keep. As for the first product of my labours, well, it may not make a fortune at auction but I was quietly satisfied with it.

The painting trip also allowed us a visit to a game park. Impala, wildebeest and klipspringers were all there. Extending our cultural insight, some of us also went to the natural history museum in Bulawayo, which contains a veritable treasury of stuffed animals and tells a remarkable story about this country.

My room-mate has changed since Harare. Goughy, the snorer, has given way to Robert Croft, who doesn't snore. What Crofty of Glamorgan does is speak Welsh. He has given me an insight into the tongue. I must check to see if it's permissible in Balderdash.

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