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Butcher admits to problems against pace

For half the match, it almost looked like Zimbabwe would challenge Australia. Their spinners bowled well, their fielding was excellent and they kept the world champions to a gettable 262. Could it be that Zimbabwe, not a minnow but by no means a piranha, would end the 23-match World Cup winning streak of the biggest fish in the cricketing pond? Well, no, because Shaun Tait, Mitchell Johnson and Brett Lee were still to play their part.

But what Zimbabwe showed was that they can compete with the strongest sides, and toppling a higher-ranked team or two is not out of the question over the next few weeks. On the sluggish pitches they will encounter, the spin of Ray Price, Prosper Utseya and Graeme Cremer will be key, but to really threaten, they must find runs from their top order.

Brendan Taylor, Charles Coventry and Tatenda Taibu have the talent to give their side good starts, but the speed of Australia's bowlers was simply too much. Coventry slapped Lee over point for six but was jumpy in playing the shorter balls, and was caught when he top-edged an attempted pull, and Taylor was beaten by the sheer pace of an accurate Tait delivery.

"I was really pleased with the way we bowled and fielded," Zimbabwe's coach Alan Butcher said after the 91-run loss. "We had a disaster against Ireland in the field [in the warm-up game] and we've worked very hard to put that right, because that's one of our strengths and we have to be good at that. I would say that I'm qualified in my praise for the team because, yes, most of it was okay, but we obviously need to bat better.

"We didn't really play [the fast bowlers] as well as we might have done. We don't see too much of that sort of pace in Zimbabwe, so it's something we're going to have to get used to if we're going to compete at the top level of international cricket."

Zimbabwe's next game is far from a top-of-the-table clash, against Canada in Nagpur next Monday, and they will fancy their chances of securing their opening win of the tournament. Led by Price, who is a tricky customer with the new ball, their spinners kept Australia on the leash at Motera, and they were backed up in the field, highlighted by a frighteningly accurate throw from Chris Mpofu in the deep that caught Ricky Ponting short.

"It's a big positive for the team, I thought our bowling and fielding was superb today," Zimbabwe captain Elton Chigumbura said. "It's something that we have to carry on in the rest of the tournament. Now we just have to work on our batting. We just have to make sure that we keep wickets in hand in the early period. After ten overs, that's when we lost two or three quick wickets. From there, playing a bigger team it's always hard to come back."

But to their credit, Zimbabwe didn't fold after crashing to 44 for 4, and some lower-order runs helped them climb to 171. It was another positive in a match that should give Zimbabwean fans hope of a heartening World Cup campaign.