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Cricket: Hussain's men set for picnic by the Riverside.

Byline: ED HAWKINS

IT is difficult to work out which is more uninspiring for England's second Test of the summer starting today - the weather or the opposition.

Certainly the rain forecast for the first ever Test to be staged at Durham's Riverside home and the wet nature of Zimbabwe's performance at Lord's make this a dreary betting event.

Nasser Hussain's men are rightfully no better than 3-10 to win the game and punters wanting to take such odds will be comforted by the fact that England have drawn just 14 of their last 50 Tests at home. No doubt the threat of rain has made England a nicer price and they are more than capable of another quick win against Heath Streak's team.

It is likely to be a stop-start affair and the 7-1 about the Test ending on Monday before lunch may be worth a bet.

England go into battle with one of their most inexperienced bowling attacks ever.

Steve Harmison, who may take the new ball on his home ground, is the veteran with six caps while James Anderson has one and Richard Johnson, expected to get the nod ahead of Sussex's James Kirtley, will make his debut.

But vast knowledge of the Test game is hardly needed against a Zimbabwe batting line-up which has been described as the worst in world cricket.

That is a little harsh on the Zims considering Bangladesh's presence as a Test nation.

Still, Zimbabwe showed at Headquarters they did not have the technique to cope when the ball swings.

Against an under-strength Middlesex side at Shenley this week they made 401 for four declared in their first innings but were exposed in their second knock when they collapsed to 140 for five.

They are used to batting on hard, dry wickets which give bowlers nothing, but a whole new approach in England is needed when the ball moves. Their batsmen need to learn to play as late as possible and with soft hands.

A bigger problem is that they do not possess a world class batsman since Andy Flower retired. And in Mark Vermeulen and Dion Ebrahim they have an opening pair unlikely to stick around long enough to protect a soft middle-order. They have opened together in three matches and Nasser Hussain will warn his young England side not to expect a repeat of their crushing first Test win over Zimbabwe this weekend, writes Ed Hawkins.

Hussain, speaking at a news conference on the eve of the inaugural Test match at Chester-le-Street, near Durham, said he would tell his bowlers to expect a tougher battle.

"What happened at Lord's was not Test cricket and I will tell my players that 19 wickets falling on one day is not the norm," he said.

"We mustn't panic if Zimbabwe put up a stand. What happened at Lord's was abnormal."

England won the first match of the two-Test series by an innings and 92 runs inside three days as the touring side were outclassed in all departments. Zimbabwe have now lost their last eight Tests.

Hussain, who went to Durham University, said left-arm spinner Ashley Giles would play but he would not name the side until the start of the match.

With seamer Matthew Hoggard out injured, he will be in charge of an even more inexperienced attack than at Lord's, with Durham's Steve Harmison the most capped fast bowler. Hussain added that several players were carrying injuries, with Anthony McGrath (side strain) likely to play as a specialist batsman.

before the tour game against Middlesex their highest partnership was 28.

One Zimbabwean capable of breaking free from his team-mates' mediocrity is wicketkeeper and vice-captain Tatendu Taibu.

Taibu is intelligent and good enough to have worked out what is required and his 49 and 37 not outs against Middlesex were promising.

He made a neat 25 in the first innings at Lord's and may be a touch of value to top score in the first innings.

For England Harmison should relish playing in front of his home crowd and is the pick to be England's top bowler.

In the past his unassured nature and inconsistency has made him a punters' nightmare, but the 6ft 4in paceman is more confident these days.

He could find an extra yard of pace being in comfortable surrounds and that will surely trouble the visiting batsmen.

With his long arms and upright action he has had some of the world's best batsmen hopping around with the sharp bounce he generates.

Harmison managed just three wickets in the first Test but he cannot be far away from a decent return. And with Zimbabwe's batsmen clearly unnerved against him and is no better opportunity for Harmison on home territory.

Recommendations

S Harmison top England bowler

2pts 10-3 (Paddy Power)

T Taibu top Zimbabwe

first-innings runscorer

1pt 9-1 (Chandler)

Test to finish Monday before lunch

1pt 7-1 (Sportingodds)

Second Test specials - Bet365 runs match bets: 5-6 A Stewart v 5-6 R Key, 4-5 H Streak v 10-11 A Blignaut, 5-6 M Vermeulen v 5-6 D Ebrahim, 5-6 M Trescothick v 5-6 M Butcher, 8-11 M Vaughan v Evs M Butcher, 8-11 M Vaughan v Evs M Trescothick, 4-5 S Carlisle v 10-11 G Flower. Harmison specials: 4-7 to bowl a wide, 3 to be out for a duck in either innings, 10 to get five wickets in

either innings, 200 to get a hat-trick.

Sportingodds - when will Test end? 150 Today, 40 Friday before tea, 20 Friday after tea, 14 Saturday after tea, 10 Sunday before lunch, 5 Sunday between lunch and tea, Sunday after tea, 7 Monday before lunch, 13-2 Monday between lunch and tea, 12 Monday after tea, 14-5 draw.

CAPTION(S):

England's Michael Vaughan prepares in the nets for the first ever Test at Durham's Riverside ground which starts today
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUE
Date:Jun 5, 2003
Words:971
Previous Article:Big Brother: Eviction battle could be close.
Next Article:Yesterday's bid to play leading role gets vote of confidence.


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