THE Zimbabwe national cricket team has lined up a warm-up match against neighbours and long-time sparring partners South Africa ahead of the 2011 International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup next month.
Zimbabwe had also lined up another warm-up match against Ireland in Dubai where they were to hold a week long intensive training camp, but were forced to make changes after the ICC paired them with the same opponents in one of their two official warm-up matches that will be played in India.
Team manager Lovemore Banda said they were looking for another opponent to replace Ireland for the Dubai warm up match, giving the selectors an opportunity to make their final experiments ahead of their first match against Australia on February 21.
“We had lined up South Africa and Ireland but we will have to make changes since we have to play Ireland again in another warm-up match organised by the ICC in India,” said Banda.
The 15-member World Cup squad, announced on Wednesday, will leave the country on February 2 for Dubai after the completion on the Met-Bank Pro-40 series whose final will be played on January 28 at the Harare Sports Club.
In Dubai, Zimbabwe will be looking to utilise the ICC High Performance Centre as they fine-tune for the global showcase to be jointly hosted by India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
They will link-up with legendary and former West Indies batsman Brian Lara who was roped in to help the batsmen who struggled in their last tour of Bangladesh.
Zimbabwe plans to experiment with their batting line-up against the Proteas in Dubai.
After the exclusion of Hamilton Masakadza and Chamu Chibhabha who usually open the bat with Brendan Taylor, the technical team will try middle order batsman Charles Coventry as an opener.
The other possibility is Regis Chakabva partnering Taylor after the former impressed coming in at number three in Bangladesh in the first One-Day-International that Zimbabwe won.
The selectors, however, are looking at getting the best out of Coventry whom selectors chief Alistair Campbell described as frustrating.
This may be Coventry’s chance to shine after he was left out of the Zimbabwe’s tour of Bangladesh due to poor form.
“To be honest Charles Coventry has been a hugely frustrating guy to deal with. We have put in so much effort in developing him but he hasn’t been performing,” said Campbell. “But we hope that he can be the X-Factor to deliver the big innings. We will try him at the top and we will also see how Chakabva responds to being promoted to the top as well.”
Campbell said the preparations for this year’s World Cup by Zimbabwe were the best that he had been involved in both as a player and as a selector.
Zimbabwe will spend three weeks in the sub-continent prior to the World Cup as they look to get more acquainted with the conditions there.
There were no major surprises in the Zimbabwe squad save for the surprise exclusion of Masakadza who failed to make it to the initial 30-man squad.
After the batting frailties exposed in Bangladesh, hopes of a change of fortune will rest on all-rounder Sean Ervine who has dumped English County side Hampshire to return to international cricket.
On Ervine, Campbell said, “We are all chuffed he is back, he strengthens our middle order and his wealth of experience will also be useful in the bowling department.”
Matabeleland Tuskers’ Sean Williams also makes a return to the squad having missed out on the Bangladesh tour through injury.
The batsman is good at playing spin and he is a handy part-time spinner. With the selectors looking ahead to an important year for Zimbabwe where they return to the Test arena, Vusi Sibanda and Tino Mawoyo have been selected among the five non-travelling reserves.
Meanwhile national team assistant coach Steven Mangongo has attacked New Zealand and their new bowling coach Alan Donald after they lured the South African legend on the eve of the World Cup.
“I think it’s unethical that he switched to New Zealand on the eve of the tournament since he has inside information about our team and we have to play them in the group stages, said Mangongo. “I think he should have waited until after the tournament — making the move it’s a bit unfair.”
The New Zealand match will be crucial for Zimbabwe’s ambitions to make the Super Eights with associate members Kenya and Canada in the same Group.
Elton Chigumbura (captain), Regis Chakabva, Charles Coventry, Graeme Cremer, Craig Ervine, Sean Ervine, Gregory Lamb, Shingirai Masakadza, Christopher Mpofu, Raymond Price, Edward Rainsford, Tatenda Taibu, Brendan Taylor, Prosper Utseya and Sean Williams.