MANY a coach have come and gone, failing dismally to solve the knotty Zimbabwe cricket team top order batting line-up, but it has taken new coach Dave Whatmore barely a month to uncover an opening partnership that could be key to the country’s World Cup fortunes.
By Munyaradzi Madzokere
The Mashonaland Eagles pair of all-rounder Chamu Chibhabha and Sikandar Raza Butt appears to have struck an understanding at the right time. Evidence from recent matches show a great combination between the two at the top-order.
Both players who are aged 28 have been frustratingly overlooked by the previous national team coaches, with Raza always sacrificed in the quest for a stable opening partnership.
They put up an eye-catching opening stand of 133 runs to help Zimbabwe to an emphatic 8 wicket triumph over Northern Districts XI, at the Harry Barker Reserve in Gisborne, New Zealand in a World Cup warm up match last week.
Chibhabha, a predatory right arm top order batter made his debut for Zimbabwe in August 2005, featuring at the 2007 ICC World Cup before his game dropped but a stint in the past two years has breathed life into the game.
His match winning 155 runs knock for Zimbabwe A against Canada on the eve of national team selection saw him sensationally sneak into the World Cup squad and since then he has scored four half centuries in eight first class innings.
In mid-January Chibhabha (62) combined with Butt (63) to put on 142 for the second wicket as Eagles finished on 216 for two in 41.1 overs to comfortably chase down Tuskers’ 213 target
Butt on the other hand has two centuries and a half ton this year alone as he looks to be a guaranteed opener for Whatmore’s team at the World Cup.
He, unlike Chibhabha, is a far more aggressive batsman who thrives against fast bowlers and his Achilles’ heel has always been making starts but failing to convert his knocks into big scores on the international scene.
Zimbabwe’s batting ability will be put to test in New Zealand and Australia where the pitches are generally quick, similar to the local where balance in the batting line up will be key.
Whatmore — who is yet to lead Zimbabwe in a competitive match — refused to mention individuals whom he thinks will be key to his team’s batting performances.
“I have a philosophy of not wanting to put pressure on particular individuals but I am happy with what most of the players are capable of doing. Most of them have shown good form with the bat and I think it could be good enough for us to reach our targets,” he told Standardsport prior to the team’s departure for New Zealand.
Zimbabwe play another warm-up match tomorrow against a more formidable opposition in co-hosts New Zealand in Christchurch before winding up the warm-up schedule with a date against former World Cup winners Sri Lanka on Wednesday.
Lately the southern African country had developed a penchant for losing early wickets, especially in the first 10 overs, an area which the previous coach Stephen Mangongo unsuccessfully tried to rectify.
On paper Zimbabwe looks balanced in the batting department going to a World Cup with Butt, Chibhabha and Hamilton Masakadza at the top, Brendan Taylor, Craig Irvine, in-form Solomon Mire and captain Elton Chigumbura covering the middle order.
Zimbabwe opens its World Cup account against neighbours South Africa on February 15 at Seddon Park, Hamilton, New Zealand.