Zimbabwean hospitality is second to none in the cricketing world. First we provide the Australians and South Africans with the pitches their bowlers have been longing for; then we provide the English with large doses of typical English weather!
Most of the brief England tour was played in overcast and often damp conditions before the final match was abandoned. Still, we must be grateful they were played at all; had the English come a year ago, the rains then were so intense that quite possibly the whole series would have been virtually wiped out, as was much of the England A tour.
The England tour was virtually the opposite in many ways of the tour three years ago. Then England were the team in crisis; this time it was Zimbabwe. England were then insular and unmotivated; this time they were positive, outgoing and extremely motivated. Then they played well below their potential; this time it was Zimbabwe who grossly underachieved. The result was another three-nil victory, but this time to England rather than Zimbabwe.
The rain ruined Zimbabwe's chances of doing what they do rather well, winning the final match of an already dead series. But England had planned no changes to their team, not even to give those players who had not played at all a chance, and that makes a change in attitude unlikely. England could equally claim that the rain deprived them of the chance to take on overall 7-6 lead over Zimbabwe in one-day internationals. At present the score remains at six wins each, with England favourites to take a lead when the teams meet in that country in four months' time, unless Zimbabwe can get back to their best in a hurry.
The English this time were excellent ambassadors for their country and an outstanding success at building the bridges that Mike Atherton's and David Lloyd's side had destroyed. Nick Knight and Mark Alleyne went coaching in the high-density townships, as is reported by Andrew Hall, CricInfo's marketing manager, elsewhere in this issue. During the lunch interval a number of the England players went on to the field to sign autographs for young cricket followers. They did an excellent job in every way, and even the reputation of their predecessors did not stop the crowds coming in, as the grounds were almost full for each match.
The Zimbabwe grounds have developed as the team has unfortunately regressed. The national side again batted badly, although they fielded well and bowled well until the Sunday match in Harare, where lack of discipline allowed England in general and Graeme Hick in particular to cut loose. Had there been a player of the series it would surely have been Hick, who was highly motivated to do well in the country of his birth and turned out fine performances with both bat and ball.
The English also commented favourably on the ground improvements in Zimbabwe, with the Bulawayo press box especially noteworthy. At the start of the season press facilities there were a disaster, with a tiny tent or dirty box allocated to the press, often without phone lines, and no meals provided. Now they have a fine press box, spoilt perhaps only by a restricted view of the nearest section of the field, communications were organised and there are excellent meals provided. There has been an immense improvement there in a very short space of time. The players, especially the batsmen, always like going to Bulawayo, and now the press will too. It was also good to see much larger crowds there than turned up for the Sri Lankan matches in particular. Hopefully Bulawayo is going places. All we need now is for us to find a Bulawayo correspondent who will actually report for us on what is going on down there. So far we have had no luck.