Out of their league

Despite Ray Mali's rather far-fetched claims that Zimbabwe could be the No. 1 ODI side in the world within three years, the reality that all bar the ICC president seem to realise is that the gulf between a young and experienced side and the other Full Member countries remains vast. Despite seemingly creditable performances against South Africa in three ODIs last month, the side is lacking almost any international-class players - with the exception of its prodigal son Tatenda Taibu - and while those thrown in at the deep end are keen, they are woefully inexperienced and, in several cases, technically flawed.

At the World Cup last March Zimbabwe were out of their depth, and the draw this time has not done them any favours. They face England, who have five seasons of Twenty20 experience, and Australia, who remain awesome whatever the format. Only a madman would even consider waging a bet on either match producing an upset.

Home truths
There was an inaugural Twenty20 tournament in Zimbabwe last season but it took place over three days and attracted almost no domestic coverage. Even the Zimbabwe board only issued basic details, but judging by standards in the Faithwear Cup, the one-day tournament which preceded it, the quality was unlikely to have been much to shout about.

Their batting and fielding should not embarrass Zimbabwe. On paper they possess a strong top- and middle order, with Taibu, who will need to bat even higher than No. 4 in the shorter format, and Brendan Taylor particularly suited to the demands of Twenty20. Some of the other mainline batsmen will need to contribute more than the 20s or 30s they seem content with now, however.

Inexperience against top-class sides is the biggest issue, with recent drubbings by A teams from India and South Africa fresh in the mind. The tail is long, and there isn't a bowler who appears likely to be able to contain Australia or England 's big hitters. Of the batsmen, Vusi Sibanda, who entered the World Cup with a burgeoning reputation, has repeatedly underperformed since and is in need of runs.

Zimbabwe have many players who can bowl and are handy with the bat, but quantity is not a suitable replacement for qualityIan Chappell

Players to watch
Tatenda Taibu Back after almost two years of self-imposed exile following a well-publicised spat with the Zimbabwe board, Taibu's appetite appears undiminished if performances in the A-team series and the ODIs against South Africa are anything to go by. His improvisation and attacking intent - he had a strike-rate of 100 against South Africa last month - put him head and shoulders above his team-mates.

Prosper Utseya He promised so much when he impressed in the Caribbean in 2006, but the captaincy, thrust on him at the age of 21, soon after Taibu quit, has had a detrimental effect on his form and confidence. But Taibu is back and there were signs against South Africa that Utseya might be on the mend. If he is, his nagging offspin is perfectly suited to Twenty20.

Dark horse
Sean Williams The former Under-19 captain has been out of the frame of late with a serious back injury, but is fit again after treatment in South Africa. A powerful batsman and useful slow left-armer, he has the ability to be one of the cornerstones of the side for the next decade, although doubts continue as to where his future lies.

Ian Chappell's take
Zimbabwe shouldn't have been competing at the highest level of international cricket for some years now, and for a number of reasons - all related to the cruel dictatorship of Robert Mugabe.

Yet again, they will be cannon fodder, this time for the Australian and English line-ups. However the return of the talented and competitive Taibu means that at least their opponents will have to work a bit harder for the inevitable victory. Sibanda, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Hamilton Masakadza and Elton Chigumbura all have talent with the bat, but they are not consistent at this level to be a support to Taibu or a major concern for their strong opposing attacks.

Batting first, they are unlikely to set a challenging total and they are likely to be chasing targets that are way beyond their means. Zimbabwe have many players who can bowl and are handy with the bat, but quantity is not a suitable replacement for quality when you're up against top-class opposition. Utseya, their consistent offspinner and captain, has a formidable task ahead of him, in trying to contain two strong batting line-ups, never mind dismissing them cheaply.

Zimbabwe cricket would have been better served if they had built up their playing strength and confidence at a lower level in the last few years. It does talented young cricketers no good to be constantly thrashed by opponents who are well above their class. It's sad to see how far the once-proud Zimbabwe cricket team have slipped since they qualified for the Super Six stage in the 1999 World Cup. This time they will fail to qualify for the final eight stage, and till they unearth a satisfactory political solution to their problems, their cricket is unlikely to make much headway. Rating: 4/10