| Zimbabwe’s Mark Vermeulen applies a cold compress on his ankle during practice at Lord’s Wednesday
London: In any other team in the world bar Bangladesh, Zimbabwe captain Heath Streak could have become a world-class allrounder.
Forced to carry a modest attack throughout his 10 years in the national team, Streak has played a dual role as shock and stock bowler. Inevitably, with such a workload, he has never had the opportunity to develop his batting although an average of 21 with eight half-centuries is more than respectable for a tail-ender.
As a pure pace bowler, Streak, now 28, has been up with the best with excellent figures of 180 wickets at 26.98 in his 51 Tests. Strongly built, he can bowl long spells at a speed now on the medium side of fast. His performance in the 2000 Lord’s Test was typical. Throughout a long and uncharacteristically warm Saturday afternoon, Streak bowled with controlled pace, late movement both ways and not a great deal of luck.
For much of the day he appeared to be playing England on his own, finishing with a Test best for a Zimbabwean of six for 87. His reward' A crushing innings and 209-run defeat.
On Thursday, Streak and an even weaker Zimbabwe team will be at Lord’s again. Without Andy Flower and several other experienced players, the tourists’ batting looks desperately thin. So too is the support bowling for Streak, who carries the extra burden of the captaincy this time.
As if the on-field burden was not enough, Streak also comes under an unwelcome political spotlight after the events of the World Cup. England forfeited their match in Zimbabwe because of security concerns while Flower and Henry Olonga wore black armbands in protest at the government of Robert Mugabe.
Anti-Mugabe demonstrators plan to protest at Lord’s on Thursday. Both Flower and Olonga were praised for their actions and Streak criticised for not speaking out. Streak has confined his comments to cricket, although he could reflect that his critics overlook his traumas last year when his father was jailed for refusing to give up his farm.
Captaining a side who always start as underdogs is no easy task.
Streak has already resigned the captaincy once, finding the job too onerous, to concentrate on his own performance. “I worked hard after relinquishing the captaincy,” he said. “That was one of the major reasons I resigned, feeling I needed to work on my game.
“I felt I was regaining some of the form that I know I am capable of and I hope I can continue that trend.
“I know it’s important for the team that I perform consistently and I’m looking forward to the challenge. I intend to spend enough time on my personal performance to produce what is best for the team.”
Streak has been troubled by a back strain in the early stages of the short two-Test tour but worked out extensively in the indoor nets at Hove and bowled in the drawn match against Sussex.
“Streaky got in 12 overs and it is always better practice out in the middle than in the nets,” said Zimbabwe coach Geoff Marsh, a former Australia opener. “Now we have to perform in the hot house.”
Olonga has urged demonstrators not to disrupt the series against England.
Olonga will be at the opening Test as a commentator for British television. “I want to see changes in the government of Zimbabwe as much as anyone, but I will not wear a black armband at Lord’s tomorrow,” Olonga said Wednesday. “If the demonstrators are disruptive, they risk losing respect for their cause and possibly alienating the public”. (Reuters)