Carnage beckons as Australia meet Zimbabwe
Horror in Harare
Among those few fans who give a toss, all eyes will be on the toss when Australia play Zimbabwe in Harare this evening. If Australia bat first no record looks safe; if they bowl it should make for swift and excruciating viewing.
Much will depend on the zest of Australia's captain Ricky Ponting. On the eve of his team's departure for Zimbabwe 12 days ago, he made ruthlessness his motto. "One thing I'll stress to the players," he said back then, "is that we're there to play the best cricket we possibly can. If that means the games are over pretty quickly then so be it."
Since then, the two scheduled Tests have been abandoned – due to fears of a mismatch, not a miscarriage of justice – and the Australians have appeared increasingly queasy about playing against what amounts to a fourth-string Zimbabwe XI. Ponting, in particular, has softened his take-no-prisoners stance, suggesting that slaughtering minnows is not such wonderful sport after all and that teams such as Zimbabwe should be rubbed out of mainstream international cricket. Several players are reportedly irritated that the three one-dayers were not scrapped too.
"The ICC has drawn a line between Test cricket and one-day cricket to maintain the value of Test cricket," said Tim May, chief executive of the Australian Cricketers Association. "The players' association does not see or agree with the ICC view."
Still, from disagreement may well come dismantlement, disdain, disaster. Should Australia bat first and heed Ponting's instructions to play their best possible cricket, the worst possible carnage seems inevitable. Highest team total in a one-day international is up for grabs; Sri Lanka's 5 for 398 against Kenya in 1995-96 is the present record, while Australia's personal best is the 2 for 359 they helter-skeltered against India in the last World Cup final.
And Zimbabwe's weakest link, despite the fact they were skedaddled for 35 against Sri Lanka on this same ground one month ago, would seem to be their attack. In five matches they dismissed only 22 Sri Lankan batsmen. For the Australian series they have brought in two 19-year-old quicks: Waddington Mwayenga, who has one previous ODI (figures 9-0-74-0) to his name, and the left-armer Ed Rainsford, who has none. Both were left out of today's game and a largely unchanged side retained.
The chances of Australia becoming the first side to crack the 400-run barrier do not seem altogether remote. Manage that and the heftiest ever victory margin – currently the 256 runs by which Ponting's men knocked off Namibia in the last World Cup – looks a formality.
The one great unknown is how quickly the Australians can click into top gear after nearly two weeks of fishing, trekking around game parks and watching TV. But as Adam Gilchrist joked in his newspaper column this morning: "To be honest, the boys shouldn't find the adjustment too hard as it feels as if white balls are about all we've seen this trip – golf balls."
Australia plan to rotate all 14 players during the three matches. They will name their first-up XI just before the start of today's game.
For those interested, Fox Sports 2 will broadcast the wreckage live from 5.20pm (AEST). For everyone else, as they say in the trade, please look away now.
[Edited on 25-5-2004 by abhs]