DOES Zimbabwe have a wide player base from which to pick two good first-class sides at the same time?
That is a crit
ical question that will be answered in the next few weeks when two first-class sides, the Zimbabwe A and the Board XI, go on different tours. The Zimbabwe A team goes to India for that country’s premier first-class competition, the Duleep Trophy, and the Board XI to the South African Bowls competition.
Since attaining Test status in 1992, Zimbabwe have always selected a second-string team to play in warm-ups against touring sides. But these teams would also comprise a number of first-team players picked purposely to get some match practice for the international games. Rarely have the selectors been required to pick their full-strength Zimbabwe team first, and at the same time have to look to the fringes for an out-and-out second team.
The Zimbabwe A side to India is basically Zimbabwe’s first team, minus skipper Tatenda Taibu and vice-captain Heath Streak who were not selected because of family commitments.
Batsman Hamilton Masakadza will captain the side. He will be deputised by pace bowling all-rounder Andy Blignaut.
The Board XI side is a merger of players either still waiting in the wings for their chance to demonstrate their talents on the highest stage – youngsters such as former national Under-19 captain Tinotenda Mawoyo – or those who have had a taste of international cricket but have not managed to gain themselves permanent places in the national team. Names that come to mind are captain of the side Douglas Marillier and top-order batsman Mark Vermeulen.
There is also Stuart Matsikenyeri, who was not picked by the selectors for the last national team assignments. Matsikenyeri has struggled to fully execute his unquestionable talent, and the South Africa tour will show how determined he is to make the selectors notice again.
Gavin Ewing and Christopher Mpofu are the only players in the Board XI side who were fielded in the last two months against New Zealand and India, although Mpofu was dropped after the New Zealand Tests. Ewing will be a bit disappointed that he did not make the side for India, but the South African tour still provides him with a chance to stake a claim to a more regular place in the national team.
Then there is Allan Mwayenga and Edward Rainsford, two of the youngest and most promising swing bowlers in the country.
Rainsford has almost fully recuperated from his untimely injury sustained when he and fellow young pace bowler Tinashe Panyangara, who is still sidelined by injury, were starting to carve their niches in the national side.
Mwayenga, the only left-arm seamer of note left in the country, will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of his younger brother Waddington, who was capped for the first time in the second Test against India.
For the Zimbabwe A side, the bowlers will have to improvise in the absence of Streak. It is essential that a team has more than five good bowlers so the captain always has someone to fall back on.
In this side, Blignaut and Blessing Mahwire will be the frontline bowlers, while the likes of Waddington Mwayenga and Anthony Ireland will perform the back-up role. Vusumuzi Sibanda is an extra seam option with his underused medium pace.
The selectors have picked three slow bowlers for the spin haven of the subcontinent in Prosper Utseya, Graeme Cremer and Keith Dabengwa.
But there is really need for there to be some form of balance in the team, and the batsmen have to be that much more positive. A striker can work wonders on the slow pitches of the subcontinent, and men like Blignaut and Charles Coventry will be tempted to go for their shots in the matches in India.
Zimbabwe A squad:
Hamilton Masakadza (captain), Andy Blignaut (vice-captain), Brendan Taylor, Vusumuzi Sibanda, Dion Ebrahim, Waddington Mwayenga, Blessing Mahwire, Graeme Cremer, Keith Dabengwa, Prosper Utseya, Charles Coventry, Terrence Duffin, Neil Ferreira and Anthony Ireland.
Board XI squad:
Douglas Marillier (captain), Alester Maregwede (vice-captain), Gavin Ewing, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Mark Vermeulen, Christopher Mpofu, Allan Mwayenga, Edward Rainsford, Greg Strydom, Tinashe Hove, Tinotenda Mawoyo, Trevor Garwe, Innocent Chinyoka, Colin De Grandhomme and Bernard Mlambo.