Although it was a practice game and the result has no relevance to the World Cup itself, Elton Chigumbura gave the nation reason to believe Zimbabwe are in with a chance come this tournament. In an innings that surely ought to have next year’s IPL auctioneers take notice, the county cricket bound all-rounder hit a quick-fire 76 off 35 balls to set up a confidence instigating one-run victory over the Aussies.
Zimbabwe were one of the first teams to touch down in the Caribbean Islands for this tournament, epitomising how much this tournament means to them, and barring a couple of undesirable results against West Indies A in their earlier warm-up matches, the exercise should do them more good than harm.
Newly-appointed coach Alan Butcher will be under the spotlight in his first major assignment with the side, and it would be interesting to see the nature of new ideas and approaches he imparts to a team that is in desperate need of them, notwithstanding the extent of their effects. Of late, the Zimbabwe team have predominantly moulded their game plan on a spin-oriented bowling attack, and given the composition of their squad the same should be the case coming into this tournament.
On the face of it, this tactic can suffice if the statistics of the just ended IPL 2010 are to be deemed credible. The top three wicket takers of the IPL were all spinners, and spin proved to be the difference that tilted the final in Chennai Super King’s favour. In fairness, it has to be said though that Zimbabwe has only recently employed the spin method more as a result of a deficiency in the genuine quickies department than by design, and this anomaly has the potential to backfire.
Bowling spinners with fielding restrictions, short boundaries and batsmen who can easily clear the ropes these days can inflict serious damage.
But spin still remains the team’s strength, and the spin trio of Prosper Utseya, Ray Price and Graeme Cremer have been in relative good form, and now understand their abilities but more importantly their frailties. The attack should be ably assisted by the seam options of Elton chigumbura, Chris Mpofu (if selected) and returning veteran Andy Blignaut.
Advancing beyond the group phases is a realistic and attainable target for the Zimbabweans, but their batting holds the key if this ambition is to materialise. A score of 160 whether chasing or defending, obviously depending on the conditions, is a par score and as already witnessed in the warm up matches. The crisis with this team, as staunch followers of them would testify, has been the inconsistency of the batting line up, as one never knows which side will turn up on the day.
The return of prodigal son Blignaut should bolster the middle order that Elton Chigumbura has valiantly kept together for a while now. The two can be assets to the team, granted their boundary hitting abilities, but they need a platform to be set by the top order for them. That is why Tatenda Taibu, Hamilton Masakadza, Brendan Taylor and Craig Ervine have their work cut out to negotiate the first batch of overs. Classy players like Jacque Kallis and Sachin Tendulkar have shown in the past that one doesn’t necessarily need to be overtly aggressive at the start of the innings, as was previously thought. Keeping up with the rate still remains imperative.
No one has ever doubted the talent in this team, and it is unfortunate that they just do no have the results to show for it, or any concrete consistency.
Doubtless, Zimbabwe is in a tough group, with both New Zealand and Sri Lanka comprising of players who gained experience during the IPL. But the Australia is enough motivation for Zimbabwe to believe that the shorter the version, the higher the chances of conjuring up a result in their favour.
Prosper Tsvanhu is a cricketer with eight first-class caps under his belt. He also played rugby for Zimbabwe Under 21s as a flyhalf. He is currently studying media at the University of KwaZulu Natal in South Africa.