| Streak has to shoulder enormous responsibility
Harare: The West Indies begin a long African campaign here on Tuesday when they take on one of the weakest ever Zimbabwe Test teams.
Zimbabwe have lost many players through emigration, political dissent, retirements and injuries in the last few months and had they all been available, only a few of the present team would get a place.
On paper the first of the two Tests — the second will be played in Bulawayo next week — will be a one-sided affair. For the first time in 15 years the Flower brothers Andy and Grant will not be available.
Andy, together with fast bowler Henry Olonga, left the country after condemning President Robert Mugabe’s policies, calling them the death of democracy during the World Cup earlier this year. Grant has pulled out because of a finger injury.
Allrounder Guy Whittall has quit the game for unstated reasons while spinner Brian Murphy left the country after being dropped for the England tour earlier this year.
Hamilton Masakadsa, whose century against the West Indies in 2001 was the youngest by a debutant at that time, is in South Africa furthering his education. Alistair Campbell was dropped for the World Cup and took up broadcasting while captain Heath Streak’s new ball partner Douglas Hondo remains unfit following a groin injury.
And were it not for contract squabbles Zimbabwe would still have the services of Murray Goodwin, who averaged over 80 for Sussex in the last English county season and will not be playing for Zimbabwe again.
Only five Zimbabwe players with considerable Test experience will take the field on Tuesday — Streak, Stuart Carlisle, Craig Wishart, Andy Blignaut and Trevor Gripper.
None of the Zimbabwe batsmen have scored 2,000 Test runs and none have an average over 26. In contrast, the West Indies have six batsmen averaging more than 30. Lara will add to his 8,404 Test runs with Shivnarine Chanderpaul expected to add to his tally of over 4,000.
Daren Ganga and Marlon Samuels showed terrific form against a Zimbabwe A side in the warm-up match which ended on Saturday as did pacemen Jerome Taylor with ten wickets and Vasbert Drakes.
The West Indies do look formidable. They have concerns about the form of Wavell Hinds and Chris Gayle, who got only 51 runs between them in four innings against the A side, but they, and Zimbabwe, will remember Gayle’s 175 at Bulawayo two years ago.
Meanwhile, Lara said on Monday selecting his team for the first Test was difficult because competition for places was intense. The West Indies are certainly flush with batsmen, despite Wavell Hinds and Chris Gayle failing to make significant runs against Zimbabwe A in their warm-up fixture which ended on Saturday in a draw.
“There is so much pressing for places that we will find it hard to find a team with just the right balance,” Lara told a media conference.
Streak, on the other hand, was, however, upbeat about prospects for a good showing against the Windies. He thought his side well-balanced, despite missing several key players. Streak referred to a good tour by Zimbabwe in England earlier this year and twice taking Australia into the fifth day on their most recent tour.
The record between the teams is the West Indies three wins with one draw, which was when Zimbabwe scored 559 runs against them in Bulawayo.
Zimbabwe: Heath Streak, Tatenda Taibu, Stuart Carlisle, Craig Wishart, Trevor Gripper, Vusi Sibanda, Mark Vermeulen, Stuart Matsikenyere, Blessing Mahwire, Andy Blignaut, Ray Price.
West Indies (from): Brian Lara, Chris Gayle, Wavell Hinds, Daren Ganga, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Marlon Samuels, Carlton Baugh, Omari Banks, Vasbert Drakes, Jerome Taylor, Corey Colleymore, Fidel Edwards, Mervyn Dillon, Ravi Rampaul.