IT is, as they say, a whole new ball game.
After getting a thorough beating by New Zealand in the two-match Test ser
ies, Zimbabwe go into the first Test with India starting on Tuesday in Bulawayo hoping to restore their standing as a more capable, more confident and more respected member of the elite group of Test-playing nations.
With the country’s growing cricket status and the heightened profile that comes with it, the responsibilities brought by raised expectations must begin to be received with a sense of duty and the desire to perform well.
There is no doubt that India have a much better chance of winning the two-match Royal Stag Test Series, and they may not expect to be extended in the matches. But it is also a fact that India’s four-wicket victory over Zimbabwe in their last Videocon Cup match on Sunday was not the stroll in the park they may have anticipated.
So Sourav Ganguly’s men will approach the Tests with a bit more caution, knowing that the Zimbabweans may shorten the odds and capitalise on any complacent mind-set that the Indians might have.
The Zimbabwe batting line-up, from which came very little in the New Zealand Tests, must stake its full commitment in these crucial Test matches, and prove beyond doubt that they can play to sufficient international standards.
Given that the bowling and fielding departments were able to show a level of competitiveness throughout the Videocon One-Day International Triangular Series, the batsmen should be compelled to complement the rest of the team in the India Tests. It is more accurate to judge a team’s fullest potential when all its departments perform well.
India are one of the strongest sides in Test cricket and Zimbabwe will have full knowledge that they will be pushed to the limit every single day of the two Tests. Test cricket is not easy, and Zimbabwe must be prepared to put in loads of hard work in order to retain some degree of credibility.
Such a situation calls for teamwork from Zimbabwe. And a few of their players will have to come up with individual brilliance in all departments. The obligation for Zimbabwe must be to take the matches to the fifth day.
It was good to see skipper Tatenda Taibu returning to form with his 72 runs in the final Videocon match against the Indians, a timely boost for him after having hit a bad patch in recent matches.
In the Test matches against New Zealand, Zimbabwe had two debutants – Keith Dabengwa and Neil Ferreira. This time, batsman Charles Coventry looks likely to be Zimbabwe’s newest Test player.
All-rounder Heath Streak has shouldered the burden of Zimbabwe’s bowling for a long time now, and it is widely acknowledged that Streak is the only world-class player Zimbabwe has. The problem with that is when Streak fails, Zimbabwe generally fails.
In this regard, the other bowlers have to support Streak, and be able to bowl for prolonged spells. That is when the likes of seamers Andy Blignaut and Blessing Mahwire will be expected to deliver.
In the spin department, Prosper Utseya, who only played in the Videocon Cup as an ODI specialist, should find his way back into the Test side after bowling his heart out in the limited-overs series. Wrist-spinner Graeme Cremer and all-rounder Dabengwa can be included as back-up spinners.