NO-ONE would have predicted that fallen African cricket nation Kenya would go all the way to the semi-finals of the International Cricket Council 2003 World Cup.
By Munyaradzi Madzokere
Not only did the then ICC associate member — an overwhelming underdog — beat their African counterparts Zimbabwe in the Super Six stage of the competition, but they left giants such as Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Bangladesh in their wake before falling to India sprawling.
Now, 12 years on, Zimbabwe — who played their 2015 ICC World Cup opening encounter against South Africa in the wee hours today — seek to replicate Kenya’s 2003 underdog heroics and at least make the Super eight stage of the global cricket showpiece.
Now under the tutelage of 1996 World Cup winning coach Dav Whatmore, Zimbabwe has shown a lot of promise if the recent World Cup warm-up matches’ exploits are anything to go by.
A Hamilton Masakadza-inspired side caused notable upset four days ago, crushing subcontinent giants Sri Lanka by seven wickets in New Zealand.
Masakadza scored an unbeaten 117 runs on the day while former captain Brendan Taylor clubbed a valuable 63 as Sean Williams starred with ball and bat, claiming 3 wickets for 35 as well as an unbeaten 51 runs.
Two days earlier Whatmore’s lads had shown incredible bowling prowess, restricting hosts New Zealand to 157 for 7 in 30,1 overs in their own backyard before rain washed out play. Elton Chigumbura and Tinashe Panyangara caused all manner of panic for the hosts’ world class batters.
Chigumbura has reason to believe that his charges can cause upsets at this tournament.
“We are underdogs going into this World Cup, a factor I think may work in our favour. We only need to play good cricket on the day and then we might cause more upsets and win more games than what people currently expect of us,” he told Standardsport.
“Looking at the group that we are in, I think every team is strong. It doesn’t matter if you are lower ranked or you are high ranked. At the end of the day it’s about who plays good cricket on the day, so we will be looking to play our best cricket even if we face the toughest or weak opponent,” added Chigumbura.
Interestingly, Zimbabwe has beaten all the Test playing nations in the group, namely South Africa, India, Pakistan and India before while they drew with Ireland at the 2007 World Cup and will be expected to steamroll past UAE.
The Zimbabwe captain also expects the New Zealand conditions as well as Whatmore’s effect to inspire the team to a successful World Cup campaign.
“The majority of the teams in our group are used to the conditions [under which] we will be playing except maybe India and United Arab Emirates, but New Zealand conditions are unique in that there is a bit more wind than what we have in Zimbabwe so we have to adapt quickly.
“It’s also a big positive to have a coach with Whatmore’s experience taking us to the World Cup. He has had a positive impact on all of us since he came in. He has knowledge of the New Zealand and Australia conditions because he is from there, so hopefully all that will work in our favour,” he said.
Whatmore’s biggest challenge would be picking the best 11 players from 15 who have all seemed sharp in recent matches especially with the bat.
Sikandar Raza Butt, Regis Chakabva, Stuart Matsikenyeri and Chamu Chibhabha will be battling for the two opening partnership slots as veterans Masakadza and Taylor look to retain their favoured third and fourth batting positions.
Stiffer competition is in the middle order where impressive Australia based all-rounder Solomon Mire, another all-rounder Seam Williams and Craig Irvine battle for the two slots to help Chigumbura provide solid cover for the tail-end.
Tinashe Panyangara seems an obvious choice for the bowling department, but the coach will have to choose between Tendai Chatara and Tawanda Mupariwa to complete the seam attack while Tafadzwa Kamungozi looks to pip Prosper Utseya as the preferred spinner.