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Encounter at Harare will prove decisive
Pat Symcox, PTI
February 02, 2003
First Published: 23:51 IST(2/2/2003)
Last Updated: 23:51 IST(2/2/2003)

England’s opening match against Zimbabwe will be more than just a game. The Zimbabweans will be emotionally charged up and a bad start in this match could end England’s campaign, there and then. England always seem to lack the ability to respond to the big challenge. It is time for them to prove their critics wrong.

England's previous World Cup campaign at home saw them getting knocked out after the group games. Now, after the recent Ashes tour Hussain and his team face many problems, primary of which are the injuries.

Trescothick and Knight have both been successful in their own right at times though, Vaughan has been the star on stage in Test cricket. Their dilemma, now will be who to select. In South Africa where the pitches are more bowler-friendly, Vaughan may have to be the man to anchor the innings.

Hussain is talented but always gives the fielding side a chance early on. As a middle-order batsman, he has often got out prematurely thereby creating pressure on a brittle lower order.

Flintoff and Irani are the two all-rounders in the side and will play a vital role if England are to have a successful World Cup.  Irani will rely on his length, variation in speed and some swing to curtail run scoring, while Flintoff should get bounce because of his height.

The evergreen Alec Stewart not only brings vast experience to the team but also toughness that at times has been lacking in English cricket. The fact that he plays well off the back foot makes him a tough customer in South African conditions and he has demonstrated this on previous tours to this country.

If England are to perform at their best, "Stewie" will need to guide the team through tough times.

England's fast bowlers certainly do not create any fear in the minds of top batsmen that they will encounter. Caddick should get good bounce but has been erratic of late and Hoggard, who played provincial cricket in Bloemfontein for a period, will need to get the ball in the right area from the outset. Lack of much pace or bounce will certainly make him someone who will be targeted.

The fact that coach Duncan Fletcher knows the South African conditions, will go a long way in assisting England in the planning. However, good platforms to allow middle order batsmen to play with freedom are critical in South Africa and this will be the real test for them.

The Pool that England are drawn in is by far the tougher of the two. Normally they battle to adjust to pitches that have extra pace and bounce but the fact that they have just spent the last few months playing in Australia will have prepared them better than India, Pakistan and the rest with the exception of the Aussies. Their opening game, however, cannot be taken for granted.

They come up against a Zimbabwean team that will be emotionally charged up and with a point to prove. A bad start in this match could very well end their campaign right there and then. This in itself means that the encounter with Zimbabwe will be like a final and not just a game against any of the weaker teams.

Somehow, England always seem to lack the ability to respond to the big time, and critics this time, will be waiting to see if the team has transformed itself since the last World Cup. (TCM)


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