CricInfo at World Cup 1999
[The ICC Cricket World Cup - England 1999]

Zimbabwe v Kenya Preview, 15 May 1999

by John Ward Zimbabwe have beaten Kenya convincingly in all eight completed official matches that have been played between the teams. In their most recent encounter, the final of the Bangladesh triangular tournament on 27 March, their 202-run victory was the third-highest ever recorded in the history of one-day internationals. So Zimbabwe could hardly have wished for a more favourable draw as they start their 1999 World Cup challenge. Or so one might think.

In fact, the Zimbabweans will be taking this match very seriously indeed. Even had they won their warm-up matches against the counties, instead of losing two and having the third washed out, they would not have been complacent. They see victory here at Taunton as crucial to their hopes of winning through to the Super Six; an upset result would be an almost insurmountable obstacle to their further progress. They do not consider it in their favour to meet Kenya so soon, when they have had insufficient opportunity to acclimatise to the uncertain English weather and conditions. History is against a slip-up but, in unfamiliar conditions, after two shock county defeats and with the possibility of interference from the weather, nothing can be left to chance.

Kenya’s batting is stronger than their bowling. If they are to pull off an upset, the most likely cause will be the bats of Steve Tikolo and Maurice Odumbe, Kenya’s only two players of undisputed Test class at present. The Zimbabweans have great respect for this pair and put every effort into dismissing them cheaply. On the other hand, the Kenyan bowling is unlikely to trouble the Zimbabwean batsmen under normal circumstances. The failure before this match of these batsmen to come to terms with English conditions, though, makes predictions of this sort more difficult to make.

Zimbabwe are a strong all-round team, who arrived in England believing themselves capable of performing in any conditions. They were confident and determined to make their mark on this World Cup, convinced they are on the verge of what to a comparatively small nation would be greatness. They have a long experienced batting line-up and plenty of depth in both pace and spin. The failure of their batsmen in the two warm-up matches which were completed was quite unexpected, and the suspicion is that a number of players were not so much over-confident as unaware of the amount of adjustment needed to bat on early-season English pitches. Their bowling and fielding have been close to their usual standard; it is the batting that ahs failed the team.

Players such as the Flower brothers, Heath Streak and Paul Strang have been well known in international circles for several years now, by reputation if not by sight. All are still in their prime, but their supporting cast is now very much stronger. Despite their abysmal batting failures in their matches against the counties, it is still difficult to see Zimbabwe slipping up in their opening match against their weak opponents; but they themselves will need no reminding of ‘the glorious uncertainty of cricket’. Kenya for their part will be well aware of Zimbabwe's two losses against the counties, in comparison with their own 1-1 record, and this can hardly fail to boost their confidence.

This is a historic match. All 22 players will be participating in their first full international match in England, although a few did play in the ICC tournament there back in 1986. Both teams are on their way up in world cricket; a number of players are surely destined to make a major impact on this tournament and in the international game in the years to come. Zimbabwe in particular are a team to watch this year, if they can overcome the trauma of a warm-up programme that has left them anything but warm. Television and a four-year tour cycle have made most of the Test-playing countries all too familiar to English cricket-followers.

Here at Taunton is something new and fresh, yet talented, a new dimension almost in the modern cricket world. Taunton is where the trail begins. This is a match worth watching.


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