Zimbabwe: Frustration Awaits

Posted on February 7, 2011 by

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The World Cup is just around the corner, and now that the Sean Ervine saga is out of the way (the less said about that, the better), let’s have a look at where Zimbabwe stand.  Zimbabwe has a long history of upsets at the World Cup, and has reached the latter stages of the competitions several times, upsetting the odds in each case.  This time around they’re in Group A, along with Australia, Pakistan, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Canada and Kenya – and on paper, and assuming the side can perform to what we know they’re capable of, reaching the Super Eight stage once again isn’t impossible.

With seven teams in each group, and four to qualify, Zimbabwe essentially needs three wins to make their progression likely (the sums can get a bit more complicated than that if ties or abandonments come into play). Canada and Kenya should be givens – Canada have never come close to beating Zimbabwe in the 50-over game, and while Kenya would have given us a run for our money a few years ago they’re currently in freefall and don’t present a real threat at the moment.  So that’s two down, one more required.

Australia are at the other end of the scale – while Zimbabwe have upset them before (most recently at the World T20 three years ago) and while their current Test form is woeful, as England have just found out the Aussies still seem to have what it takes in the 50-over game, so let’s assume that one goes to the Aussies.  That leaves us needing to beat one of Pakistan (whose form is tricky to analyse at the best of times), New Zealand (another side who seem to be in freefall at the moment) or Sri Lanka (who we beat during the 2010 tri-series, although admittedly they were fielding a weakened side at the time), and I don’t think that would be too much of a push – New Zealand in particular are ripe for the picking at the moment, if Zimbabwe can discover some killer instinct.

The problem, as ever, is consistency – particularly with our batting, this has always been the problem, with the same 11 men able to swing from being bowled out in the 80s to amassing over 300.  There’s no-one in Zimbabwe’s batting lineup who you can point to and say, “they can be depended on to build our innings around”.  Brendan Taylor and Tatenda Taibu are the two most likely to fill the anchor role if the need arises, but Taylor can be hit-or-miss while Taibu’s tendency to try and play with flourish has an annoying habit of getting him out.  He’d be a lot more useful if he could restrain his theatrical urges.

Before the Ervine fiasco, talk from the ZC camp was that Charles Coventry would fill the #2 slot – a risky decision, as although Coventry has some big scores to his name (including a brief stint as joint holder of the record for most runs scored in an ODI), he’s also possibly the most unreliable top-order batsman we have.  Sean Ervine’s departure, though, brought the promising Tino Mawoyo into the side – an opening batsman with huge potential, he’d slot in well at 2 opening with Taylor, pushing Coventry down into his more natural place at 3rd.  Add Sean Williams, Craig Ervine, Taibu and Elton Chigumbura, and there’s a batting lineup there that’s as good as any that Zimbabwe have fielded in quite some time – as long as they all remember how to play on the day.

Zimbabwe’s gameplan, though, is likely to revolve around the “death by spin” tactic that’s worked so well against West Indies, India and Sri Lanka in recent series, and that sub-continent pitches should give some assistance to.  Enter the spin trio of Graeme Cremer, Ray Price and Prosper Utseya.  Add some pace from Shingirai Masakadza (supplemented by Chigumbura’s seamers), and you have what I reckon is a side that isn’t just competitive, but capable of springing the surprise or two that’s needed to see Zimbabwe through to the Super Eight.  And wouldn’t that be a suitable signal that Zimbabwe is back on the big stage?

For those not keeping track, all that makes my predicted XI for Zimbabwe: Brendan Taylor, Tino Mawoyo, Charles Coventry, Craig Ervine, Sean Williams, Tatenda Taibu, Elton Chigumbura, Prosper Utseya, Graeme Cremer, Shingirai Masakadza, Ray Price.  Mawoyo would be the “surprise” pick of that lineup, given his role as late replacement, but I believe he has the talent and, if given the chance during our warm-up matches to settle into the role, he should do well. The rest of the team picks itself.

I’m always loathe to build up expectations for Zimbabwe, as we can be our own worst enemies at times, and to be fair to them finishing 5th in Group A would be perfectly acceptable and consistent with our ODI ranking – anything better is a bonus.  But while the side lacks consistency, it also has oodles of ability – and if the full lineup can fire at once and show
what they’re capable of, then the Super Eights really aren’t that far away.  It’s just a very big “if”. Several weeks of frustration likely await Zimbabwe fans as the group stage unfolds – but then, we’re used to that already.