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England take aim at Zimbabwe

London: England will go into this weekís first Test against Zimbabwe with a seam attack more likely to worry their own supporters than their opponents.

The home teamís bowling will be built around James Anderson, aged 20, uncapped and with barely a seasonís experience since emerging from club cricket.

At least Anderson will arrive at a damp Lordís on Thursday brimming with confidence after a fine World Cup.

His sidekicks, in contrast, hoping to fill the chasm left by the recuperating Darren Gough and the injured Andy Caddick, have reputations to live down rather than to boast about.

Steve Harmison, while offering serious pace and steepling bounce, is still best known for bowling eight wides in an over in a tour match in Australia last year.

With allrounder Andy Flintoff ruled out with a shoulder injury on Tuesday and spinner Ashley Giles a likely omission, medium-quicks James Kirtley and Matthew Hoggard, bothered by a side strain, could complete the pace quartet.

Kirtley, also uncapped, is best known to date for being reported for a suspect action, while Hoggard is so horribly out of form that he did not get a run during the World Cup and has only managed four first-class wickets this season, costing well over 50 apiece.

Flintoff has been ruled out after failing a fitness test on his injured shoulder.

The burly Lancashire player, whose career has been constantly hampered by injuries, suffered bruising and swelling around nerves in his right shoulder after being hit by the ball while batting for his county Middlesex last week.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) said on Tuesday that the injury affected Flintoffís bowling arm and hand and that he was unable to complete a practice session.

Uncapped Yorkshire captain Anthony McGrath is in line to replace Flintoff.

The batting, headed by Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick, at least has solidity but Nasser Hussainís team still looks like a pop gun short of a cork.

Zimbabwe look more like a thinly sliced sandwich without any filling.

Last time they came to England, three years ago, the meat was provided by Murray Goodwin, Alistair Campbell, Andy Flower ó averaging 51.54 in Tests ó and allrounder Neil Johnson. All have since left the international scene, some more reluctantly than others.

Flower, newly retired after his well-documented protests with Henry Olonga over what they claim are human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, will follow the series on television while turning out for county side Essex.

His brother Grant is the only player in the squad with a Test century. Heath Streak, the teamís admirable but overburdened skipper, is the only player with more than 50 Test wickets.

The first Test may yet succeed in engineering some drama.

While Lordís offers true batting tracks, May in England promises cloud cover, umbrellas and demonic in-swinging deliveries that zip away off the seam. England beat Zimbabwe in such conditions in 2000 by an innings and 209 runs.

If the sport fails to intrigue, there could at least be a political sideshow.

Protestors opposed to President Robert Mugabe and his government in Zimbabwe have promised a demonstration before the match.

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