QUALIFYING for any global sporting competition has never been a given for the country’s national sporting teams and the Zimbabwe cricket side, fresh from a woeful showing at the ongoing ICC World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, will no longer enjoy the comfort of automatic qualification.
By Munyaradzi Madzokere
This comes after the cricket governing body decided to reduce the 2019 ICC World Cup to be hosted by England and Wales to a 10-team event where the top seven teams in the ICC rankings, as of September 30 2017, will earn automatic progress along with the hosts England.
In the new qualification format, 10 teams would then compete for the two remaining slots at the 2018 Cricket World Cup Qualifier in Bangladesh pitting teams ranked ninth through to 12th and the top six teams from the World Cricket League Division-one.
Now under the tutelage of Dav Whatmore, Zimbabwe is currently ranked 10th behind Bangladesh who have made the World Cup quarterfinals and ahead of Ireland who had a far better World Cup experience, in 11th place.
In his written review of the country’s recent performance in Australia and New Zealand, managing director of Zimbabwe cricket affairs Alastair Cambell wrote:
“I played too much cricket in my life to fall back now on ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’ so, like the players, I will accept that we were not good enough. One win in six matches is immense disappointment.”
“The future might be bleak, with qualification almost certainly required for the next ICC Cricket World Cup, and ZC facing a battle to attract fixtures in the short and medium term, either home or away, the players will need to embrace the fact that their futures lie in their hands.”
This was a sober wake-up call to the national team players, whose proclivity to crumbling under pressure in matches, and getting near yet so far from winning big games has certainly become legendary.
The country will likely face their most recent nemeses in Bangladesh, Ireland and other upcoming cricket states such as Afghanistan, Scotland and United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the race for the two remaining places at the next World Cup.
Zimbabwe has become that cricketing nation digging for positives in mediocre performances almost all the time.
At a press conference held last week at the Harare Sport Club after the team returned from the World Cup, captain Elton Chigumbura gave his verdict of the country’s performance.
“We played well but it’s always disappointing to lose matches. I thought we had good chances to win games, especially against South Africa, Ireland and Pakistan, but we ended up losing and it was disappointing,” he said.
One wonders how a team can play well and end up losing to an associate nation such as Ireland.
If the truth be told, apart from some individuals such as Brendan Taylor, Sean Williams, Tendai Chatara and a few others who put their heads up, the team never clicked.
Even the solitary win over part-timers UAE was far from convincing. Taylor, who has just retired from international cricket despite a gigantic effort at the World Cup, shared his thoughts on some of his former teammates at the same press conference.
“I certainly think Zimbabwe has got good players that can compete and contribute to the nation’s success but most of them have to step up their mindsets and mental approach to games.
“I am excited by what we have in stock in terms of talent and I certainly hope the coaches will get the best out of the players and the players should also try to get the best out of themselves,” said Taylor who is set to join Nottinghamshire County Club in England.
While there seems to be some truth in Taylor’s assessment, bowling coach Douglas Hondo felt there is nothing wrong with the mentality of the team, especially in pressure moments during matches.
“We have come out with positives in pressure moments before, so mentality is not a problem. We just need to get in those situations more and find ways of getting out of the situations.
“I think those situations we had at the World Cup are going to help us in the upcoming matches because the guys realised we were on numerous occasions in winning positions but made the wrong choices and lost in the process,” he said.
Whatever is wrong with our cricket team has to be fixed well before the 2019 World Cup qualifiers, or else Zimbabweans might have to watch the next global cricket showpiece from the sidelines.
Only last year, Zimbabwe failed to qualify for the T20 World Cup main event after failing to negotiate a group that had Ireland, Netherlands and UAE as Netherlands stole the show to progress ahead of the African on net run rate.