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The BBC's Jonathan Agnew
"England couldn't wait to get out of Johannesburg"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 15 February, 2000, 16:41 GMT
England desperate to finish on high note

Andy Flower has helped turn around Zimbabwe's fortunes

By BBC News Online's Thrasy Petropoulos in Bulawayo.

Zimbabwe captain Andy Flower is relishing his side's role as underdogs as England prepare for their four-match one-day international series.

Whatever England achieve on their 10-day trip to Zimbabwe, they cannot fail to improve on the image they left behind when they were last here, three years ago, on what became known in some parts as the "tour of shame".

England made few friends on their last visit to Zimbabwe
A drawn Test series and three one-day international defeats - not to mention the tirade of coach David Lloyd after the negative Zimbabwean bowling tactics had forced a draw in the first Test - prompted opposition captain Alistair Campbell to comment that England had a "superiority complex".

Much water has passed under the bridge since then (most of it last week in rain-soaked Johannesburg) and relations between the teams have improved immeasurably.

It is impossible to imagine Duncan Fletcher, the present England coach and former Zimbabwe captain, uttering a word out of line about anyone.

Diplomatic leader

Nasser Hussain can be included in the same category too but, without intending it to sound in any way like a slight on Zimbabwean cricket, the captain let slip his side's real feelings about the newest Test nation when he was in South Africa.

Nasser Hussain sees the tour as a learning process
Before the washed out group game between the countries at Centurion Park, Hussain told the press: "We are the professional country. We just have to think that we are the better side and, if we play professionally, we will beat them."

He did concede that there were few better at exploiting a team's weakness than Zimbabwe but the assumption - intended or not - was that a country of two first-class teams and 25 professional cricketers should always be inferior to one of 18 first-class counties.

A 6-3 advantage to Zimbabwe in these contests and a run in the last World Cup which saw them come within one victory of a place in the semi-final - while England failed to reach the Super Six - tells a different story.

Psychological edge

Current Zimbabwean captain, Andy Flower, refused to be fazed by his opposite number's comments.

"I'm not too bothered," he told BBC News Online. "The only way we change that is by producing better cricket more consistently.

The teams came face-to-face in the recent triangular tournament
"To be honest, I'm quite happy with him saying those things because, if that's the way they view it, we have the edge."

Having gone down in a heap in Cape Town and watched South Africa lose out by two wickets to their northern neighbours in a battle of nerves in Durban, Hussain knows better than to underestimate Zimbabwe.

Their encouraging performance in the triangular tournament was, though, a considerable improvement on recent performances.

A sequence of poor results which started in a one-day tournament with India and West Indies in Singapore, and included heavy defeats on home soil to Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka, prompted Campbell to stand down and be replaced by former captain Flower.

"We took a huge dive," said Flower before the first of the four one-day internationals against England.

"I'm not sure of the exact reasons why. I think it was a combination of things. I know it might sound a bit silly but maybe after a successful World Cup trip the guys got a bit complacent.

"Also, some of the focus had been misdirected. Our contracts were renewable at the end of August. They weren't all signed immediately because there were still a few wrangles going on."

Player power

Dave Richardson, the former South Africa wicketkeeper and a lawyer by trade was brought in negotiate on behalf of the Zimbabwe cricketers and their board, and did so successfully.

A tour of shame won┐t be the epitaph of this winter's safari but nor will it been recorded as successful one.

Hussain has long insisted that it is little more than a learning process and an investment for the future.

With reputations to salvage, the four one-day internationals, two each in Bulawayo and Harare, should be the first instalment of those rewards.

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Zimbabwe v England

A-pathetic England
Zimbabwe took the 1997 one-day series 3-0

See also:
21 Jan 00 |  England on Tour
England's one-day campaign
13 Feb 00 |  England on Tour
South Africa defeat sorry England
09 Feb 00 |  England on Tour
English syrup wins the day
02 Feb 00 |  England on Tour
Zimbabwe win last-ball thriller
28 Jan 00 |  England on Tour
Sorry England slump to defeat
08 Feb 00 |  England on Tour
England one-day profiles
14 Feb 00 |  England on Tour
Victory vindicates captain Cronje
17 Jan 00 |  England on Tour
Zimbabwe one-day profiles
Links to other England on Tour stories are at the foot of the page.