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ICC Champions Trophy
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September 18, 2002
1142 IST

Pool A:
Aus | Ban | NZ

Pool B:
Ind | Eng | Zim

Pool C:
Ken | SA | WI

Pool D:
Ned | Pak | SL

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England face Zimbabwe in tough test

An inexperienced England side open their Champions Trophy campaign on Wednesday and must overcome not only a determined Zimbabwe team fighting to avoid an early exit from the tournament, but also the tropical heat.

"The main condition you got to worry about is the heat. The wickets will be slower than in England and you've got to get the judgement right," said England coach Duncan Fletcher after supervising his team's training in humid conditions at the Premadasa stadium on Tuesday.

England go into the day-night clash aware that the foqrmat of this year's version of the tournament means they can ill-afford a slip up, especially as their second pool 2 match will be against the in-form India.

It is the most competitive of the four first round pools, the winners of which qualify for the semi-finals of the prestigious 12-team event.

Zimbabwe lost their opening match to India by 14 runs on Saturday, but skipper Heath Streak still feels there is a realistic chance of a three-way tie if his side can beat England.

"You can win one game and still go through. Each team has the ability to beat each other," Streak told reporters on Tuesday. "If we can pull off a win, it becomes a mini-final in the last match between England and India (on Sunday)."

England will be determined to maintain their excellent record against the Zimbabweans, having beaten them in their last eight games including a 5-0 whitewash in Africa late last year.

But they will have to be wary of Zimbabwe batsman Andy Flower, who hit a career-best 145 against India to keep his team within striking distance until the very end on Saturday.

"They are a very dangerous side, you can never underestimate them," added Fletcher.

England have arrived after a hectic domestic season without all rounders Andrew Flintoff and Craig White, in-form opener Michael Vaughan and leading paceman Darren Gough.

"We probably have one of the most inexperienced England sides I have got on the field," said Fletcher.


Their absence will provide an opportunity for Ronnie Irani and Ian Blackwell, the big-hitting uncapped Somerset batsman who has come in place of Flintoff.

Irani, whose accurate medium-pace could prove effective on the slow pitches, hit 100 during England's 77-run victory over Bangladesh in a 50-overs-a-side practice game on Monday.

The 24-year-old Blackwell looks set to make his international debut after lashing a 49-ball 56 and then taking three for 21 bowling slow left-arm spin.

"It looks like he is prepared to learn, that is the key," said Fletcher, who felt the player could be useful to force the pace batting lower down the order.

The England coach said highly experienced wicketkeeper Alec Stewart had recovered from an upset stomach and would play.

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