England v Zimbabwe, Group B, Cape Town September 12, 2007

England's unexpected crunch match



Andrew Flintoff: will he play? © Getty Images
Zimbabwe's thrilling victory over Australia has thrown Group B wide open and England will now be well aware they can't take their first match in the tournament lightly. You wouldn't blame Zimbabwe if they rolled into the game on the back of an all-night party - it isn't every day the world champions are beaten - but if they can hold themselves together for another 24 hours, who knows what they can achieve.

The English game has embraced Twenty20 with vigour and now the national side gets the chance to show if domestic experience can translate to the international stage. They have brought with them five specialists, helping to counter the lack of Twenty20 played by the leading names, but whoever takes the field will be well aware of the challenge.

Bat play
England managed to put big runs on the board in the one-day series against India and have the fire-power to do the same in Twenty20. Luke Wright, who has earned his call-up after success in the top three for Sussex, is likely to go in high up the order while Kevin Pietersen needs to be given as much time as possible to build his innings. Dimitri Mascarenhas, after his five sixes in five balls against India, could be as low as No. 9 meaning England can go hard throughout their 20 overs.

Zimbabwe's line-up will have gained huge confidence from their successful run-chase and showed no fear against Australia's quick men. A similar outlook will serve them well against England and they have the advantage of having played on the surface and being able to judge what is a decent total.

Wrecking Ball Medium-pace swing is Zimbabwe's key weapon and if conditions remain as helpful as they were against Australia then Gary Brent and Co. can again prove a handful. Elton Chigumbura's elevation to the new-ball role was an inspired move, but the experiment with Tatenda Taibu could be short-lived.

The most impressive part of England's recent one-day displays was the performance of their new-ball pairing, James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Their consistent efforts produced early in-roads and restricted the scoring. Quick wickets in Twenty20 cricket put teams onto the back foot and they are a potent pair. Mascarenhas' nibbling medium-pace could be hard to score off on a sluggish Newlands pitch, then there is Andrew Flintoff. If he is fit.

Key your eyes on
Zimbabwe's fielding. It was electric against Australia and was a key part of them winning the match. They dived for everything, held their catches, and Taylor's glovework was also impressive.

Shop talk
"Once we've won again then they can have a full go," said Zimbabwe's coach Robin Brown, whose main concern is ensuring his team are focussed again for the morning. That might be easier said than done. Most of England's focus has been on Flintoff. He batted and bowled in the training session on Tuesday, hitting four sixes in four balls in the process, but a decision won't be taken until just before the game. Paul Collingwood said: "We are going to have to judge him in the morning and see if he pulls up stiff or sore and then take it from there."

Pitching it right
The Newlands surface was sluggish and tough for scoring as expected and much the same is expected for the second match. The forecast is slightly better, although the odd shower can't be ruled out.

Teams

England (possible) Matt Prior (wk), Luke Wright, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood (capt), Andrew Flintoff, Owais Shah, Chris Schofield, Dimitri Mascarenhas, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, James Kirtley

Zimbabwe (probable) Vusi Sibanda, Hamilton Masakadza, Chamu Chibhabha, Brendon Taylor (wk), Elton Chigumbura, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Keith Dabengwa, Prosper Utseya (capt), Gary Brent, Tawanda Mupariwa

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer on Cricinfo