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Last Updated:  Monday, 24 February, 2003, 18:17 GMT
All quiet in Bulawayo
By Barnaby Phillips
BBC southern Africa correspondent in Bulawayo

The biggest match of Zimbabwe's world cup campaign passed off without incident on a beautiful day in Bulawayo.

The Australian team, professional and ruthless to the last, secured a valuable victory, and boarded a special charter plane straight back to South Africa.

Pius Ncube (right) leads a small group of protestors
Pius Ncube (right) leads a small group of protestors
When I asked the Australian captain, Ricky Ponting, why it was such a brief visit, he said: "Because of concerns about the players security".

But, in reality, the Australian players were never at risk, just as the England team would not have been at risk had they chosen to come to Zimbabwe.

That's because the government here is doing its utmost to ensure that visiting players and officials have a safe and enjoyable time in Zimbabwe.

They are determined to prove that reports of a social and political crisis have been exaggerated by the foreign media, which, insists the government, is biased and even racist in its reporting of Zimbabwe.

Certainly, there was little sense of crisis inside the tree-lined ground at Bulawayo's Queens Sports Club.

The vast majority of spectators, black and white, had simply come to enjoy themselves, watch a good game of cricket, and drink a few beers.

But a few people had arrived with a point to make.

A group of churchmen, led by the Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube, gave a brief statement to journalists outside the ground.

It read: "Our Christian faith compels us to stand in solidarity with the starving, the oppressed and suffering people of this land and to work and pray for our liberation from the cruel yoke of oppression."

The churchmen walked into the ground and unfurled a banner condemning violence.

The police looked on, and did not intervene.

On the other side of the pitch, a small group of protestors had a flag with the inscription "Zimbabwe needs change".

Zimbabwean police keep an eye on spectators at the match between Australia and Zimbabwe, in Bulawayo.
Zimbabwean police keep an eye on spectators
Eye-witnesses in the crowd said the four men who had brought this flag into the ground were arrested by police during the lunch interval, but released soon afterwards.

Otherwise, the day passed off without incident.

Spectators cheered wildly as Zimbabwe compiled a decent total.

Andy Flower, Zimbabwe's star batsman, received warm applause for his 62 runs.

Flower has been under intense pressure from the Zimbabwean cricket authorities, after he and fast bowler Henry Olonga released a statement at the beginning of the tournament condemning what they called "the death of democracy in Zimbabwe".

Olonga has subsequently been dropped, but Flower's careful innings underlined once again his value to the side.

And despite the innuendo and abuse Flower and Olonga have been subjected to from Zimbabwe's state media, both players seem to be more popular than ever.

In the end, though, Zimbabwe simply did not score enough runs on a good batting pitch.

And as the Australian batsmen closed in on their total, the home crowd fell silent, and the voices of a few dozen Australian supporters grew louder and louder.

A somewhat discordant rendition of "Waltzing Matilda" drifted over the ground and the home crowd shuffled off.

A cheerful day in the sunshine was over. Tomorrow, it will be back to the grim task of making ends meet in Zimbabwe's depressed economy.


SEE ALSO
Ponting praises Aussie batting
24 Feb 03 |  Team Pages
Streak positive despite defeat
24 Feb 03 |  Team Pages
Australia ease past Zimbabwe
24 Feb 03 |  Team Pages
Have Your Say on Australia
04 Jan 03 |  Have Your Say
Have Your Say on Zimbabwe
04 Jan 03 |  Have Your Say



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