Zimbabwe will hope to take a few lessons from batting great Brian Lara when they clash with his West Indian team in a Champions Trophy qualifying match today.
Zimbabwean cricket is attempting to rebuild after being battered and bruised by political turmoil at home that forced top stars like Andy Flower, Heath Streak and Tatenda Taibu to quit the country.
Zimbabwe, now coached by former international Kevin Curran and captained by 21-year-old Prosper Utseya, will cause a major upset if they progress beyond the qualifying round also featuring Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
The top two teams in the round-robin qualifier will join world champions Australia, South Africa, India, Pakistan, England and New Zealand in the main tournament that begins on Saturday.
"We are here to learn and there are few better persons to learn from than watching Lara in action," said Curran of the record-breaking West Indian captain. "We have been hit badly by the exodus of top players. The average age of this team is 20. But they work hard and are talented. We are picking up again."
Lara, meanwhile, was focused on making a flying start. His team has to go through the qualifying rounds despite winning the previous Champions Trophy in England in 2004.
"We had to qualify because we were not among the top six on April 1 but that is a blessing in disguise," he said. "I see it as a good way of going into the tournament. We will have three games under our belt when the main tournament starts and will be better prepared. "Frankly, if we do not get past the first hurdle, we do not deserve to be playing in the big league."
Lara, Test cricket's leading scorer with 11,505 runs, is only 179 runs away from becoming the fifth batsman to make 10,000 one-day runs after Indians Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, Pakistan's Inzamam-ul-Haq and Sanath Jayasuriya of Sri Lanka.
At 37, the left-hander prefers to concentrate on Test cricket but is enthused enough to lead the West Indian revival in limited-overs cricket, ahead of the World Cup in his own backyard in the Caribbean in March.
Since Lara took over as captain for a third term in April, the West Indies routed Zimbabwe 5-0 and stunned India 4-1 at home, before edging out the Indians to reach the Malaysian tri-series final last month.
"It will be a huge World Cup at home, but before that we must win and take confidence from every match we play, starting with the Champions Trophy," he said.