| Enormous responsibility on Heath Streak
Perth: Heath Streak’s depleted Zimbabweans arrive here on Wednesday to prepare for one of cricket’s toughest missions — a Test series against Steve Waugh’s Australians on their home pitches.
Streak, 29, an accomplished allrounder from Bulawayo, has just two weeks in which to whip an inexperienced 15-man squad into a competitive unit before the first Test in Perth from October 9.
It will be Zimbabwe’s first Test in this country after a single previous Test meeting in the African country four years ago when Australia romped home by 10 wickets.
The tourists’ task has been made all the tougher by the absence of the injured Grant Flower, sidelined recently with a broken thumb after he was struck in the domestic competition.
Flower, 32, a 65-Test campaigner with a respectable average of almost 30 at this level, is Zimbabwe’s only current world-ranking batsman, following the retirement from Test ranks of elder brother Andy.
Huge though the challenge may be for Zimbabwe — who have won only seven of their 67 Tests so far and have been whitewashed by Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and England in their past four series — skipper Streak sees the two-Test tour as an opportunity to be grasped.
“This is a big milestone in the history of Zimbabwe cricket,” Streak said just before departure. “It offers us a fantastic opportunity to pit our skill against some of the best players in the world.
“We know that the cricket will be intense, and we do not expect Australia to underestimate us or take the Tests lightly. Every player in the squad will be looking to learn from the tour and to advance his game.”
Zimbabwe have one major advantage over most teams visiting this country — they have two outstanding Australian coaches who know as much as anyone about conditions here.
Former Test opener and Australian vice-captain Geoff Marsh is overall coach, while former Test fast bowler Bruce Reid is working on the pacemen.
“With such a coaching team, we will have the best information and advice on the Australians,” Streak said. “We will be straining every sinew to put them under as much pressure as possible.”
Without the Flowers at the batting crease, Zimbabwe will look to such players as Craig Wishart, Trevor Gripper, Streak and Stuart Carlisle to show the way. Emerging youngsters showing promise with the bat are Mark Vermeulen and Tatenda Taibu.
The broad-shouldered Streak will also carry a massive load with the ball. A world-class paceman with 187 Test scalps, he may well be in his element at the WACA ground, where the early-season turf should provide plenty of encouragement for speedsters in the opening Test.
Streak can expect wholehearted pace support from allrounder Andy Blignaut, whose first 10 Tests have earned a creditable 34 wickets at an average of 32.73.
Zimbabwe open their campaign with a one-day match against a Cricket Australia Chairman’s XI at Lilac Hill Park, near here, on October 1 and meet Western Australia in a three-day clash two days later.
Heath Streak, Andy Blignaut, Gary Brent, Stuart Carlisle, Dion Ebrahim, Sean Ervine, Craig Evans, Gavin Ewing, Trevor Gripper, Douglas Hondo, Stewart Matsikenyeri, Ray Price, Tatenda Taibu, Mark Vermeulen, Craig Wishart.