Zimbabwe v Kenya series preview February 24, 2006

Zimbabwe have it all to lose

Terry Duffin: needs to hit the ground running © AFP
Rarely can a one-day international series have attracted such little attention and so little interest as the one between Zimbabwe and Kenya starting at Bulawayo tomorrow. For the first time in many years, not even the television cameras will be in evidence, as the local media cannot raise enthusiasm.

In fairness, the shambolic nature of the build-up has much to do with that. That the series was going ahead was only confirmed last weekend after Zimbabwe had tried to cut down the five matches to three. It took the intervention of the ICC for Zimbabwe's board to back down.

The absolute anonymity of the Zimbabwe side will further dampen the appeal of the matches. The team has been ripped part by five months of infighting, and although the player strike is now over, Cricinfo has learned that the appointment of Terry Duffin as captain has reopened wounds. Duffin, who has never played an ODI, was picked ahead of more experienced players, and sources inside the camp speak of a number of black players being extremely unhappy.

The side Duffin has to bring together is one of the least experienced ever to take the field for an established country, with a total of 113 one-day appearances in the 15-man squad - that contrasts with Kenya's two most experienced players - Steve Tikolo and Thomas Odoyo - who have played 133 times between them. Five of the Zimbabwe side have never appeared in an ODI, five more have played fewer than 10 times. One - Piet Rinke - has not, to be best of anyone's knowledge, played competitive cricket this season.

Kenya toured here four months ago and beat an A team which was probably stronger than anything that Zimbabwe can field now. They also know that a series win will mean they leapfrog their hosts in the ICC ODI Rankings.

Under their new coach Roger Harper, Kenya have been undergoing intensive training over the last month, and they are a blend of youth and experience. The three players who featured in the ICC Winter Training Camp - fast bowlers Nehemiah Ngoche, 22, and Alfred Luseno, 23, together with 20 year-old allrounder Kalpesh Patel - are all included.

Kenya only arrived in the early hours of this morning after a seven-hour delay in Nairobi, and they flew to Bulawayo later in the day. Their afternoon net session was cut short by rain but Zimbabwe, who trained first, managed to hold their nets uninterrupted.

It's a hard series to call, with so little known about so many of the participants. The Zimbabweans have home advantage, but the Kenyans have the team spirit and the experience. Zimbabwe, though, have the most to lose. This is their first outing since the racial/political purge of the board and their self-imposed withdrawal from Test cricket. If they win, then they will have bought themselves a little bit of breathing space. If they lose, however, then Peter Chingoka will face even more tough questions at next month's ICC executive meeting.

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo