| STREAK: ‘Battle of equals’
Colombo: England open their Champions Trophy campaign on Wednesday and must overcome not only a determined Zimbabwe team fighting to avoid an early exit from the tournament, but also the gruelling heat.
“The main condition you got to worry about is the heat. The wickets will be slower than in England and you’ve got to get the judgement right,” said England coach Duncan Fletcher.
England go into the day-night clash aware that they can ill-afford an early slip, especially as their second pool 2 match will be against the in-form India. It is the most competitive of the four first-round pools, the winners of which qualify for the semi-finals.
Zimbabwe lost their opening match to India by 14 runs Saturday, but skipper Heath Streak still feels there is a realistic chance of a three-way tie if his side can beat England.
“You can win one game and still go through. Each team has the ability to beat each other,” Streak said. “If we can pull off a win, it becomes a mini-final in the last match between England and India (on Sunday).”
England will be determined to maintain their excellent record against the Zimbabweans, having beaten them in their last eight games. But they will have to be wary of Zimbabwe batsman Andy Flower, who hit a career-best 145 against India to keep his team within striking distance until the very end. “They are a very dangerous side, you can never underestimate them,” added Fletcher.
England have arrived here after a hectic domestic season without allrounders Andrew Flintoff and Craig White, in-form opener Michael Vaughan and leading paceman Darren Gough.
The absence of regulars will provide an opportunity to Ronnie Irani and Ian Blackwell, the big-hitting uncapped Somerset batsman who has come in place of Flintoff. The 24-year-old Blackwell looks set to make his international debut after lashing a 49-ball 56 and then taking three for 21 bowling left-arm spin.
England (from): Nasser Hussain (captain), Marcus Trescothick, Nick Knight, Jeremy Snape, James Kirtley, Alec Stewart, Owais Shah, Ian Blackwell, Ashley Giles, Ronnie Irani, Rikki Clarke, Mathew Hoggard, Andrew Caddick.
Zimbabwe (from): Heath Streak (captain), Alistair Campbell, Dion Ebrahim, Sean Ervine, Andy Flower, Grant Flower, Travis Friend, Douglas Hondo, Douglas Marillier, Mpumelelo Mbangwa, Raymond Price, Tatenda Taibu, Guy Whittall.
Umpires: Rudi Koertzen, Steve Bucknor. (Agencies)