Zimbabwe coach Heath Streak says his players will play “strong cricket” against minnows Nepal, as they seek a confidence-boosting winning start to the International Cricket Council (ICC) Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2018 at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo today.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
Pressure will be on the hosts to get their campaign off to a winning start in their Group B opener as the 10-team ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2018 gets underway, with four scheduled matches across the same number of venues in Harare and Bulawayo today.
The other Group B match will see Afghanistan take on Scotland at Bulawayo Athletic Club, while in Group A, Ireland will square-off against the Netherlands at Old Hararians, with Papua New Guinea taking on the United Arab Emirates at Harare Sports Club.
The focus of the entire nation will, however, be on the hosts, Zimbabwe who will head into the match aware that nothing short of a convincing victory will be enough to boost their chances of clinching one of the remaining two places at the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup which will be staged in England and Wales from May 30 to July 14.
Streak, who is hoping to preserve Zimbabwe’s proud record of nine continuous World Cup appearances from 1983 to 2015, said although his charges had respect for their opponents Nepal, he was confident his team would comfortably win their first match of the qualifying tournament.
“We respect them [Nepal], but I expect my guys to go out there and play strong cricket and I think if we play to our ability we should be able to beat them quite comfortably, that’s my expectation of the team,” he said.
“We won’t take them lightly by any stretch of the imagination, we know that they’ve got one or two decent players and I feel that when we play to our full ability we should dominate them.”
The former Zimbabwe captain admitted that the significance of today’s match will be twofold as not only will they be searching for crucial points to get their campaign underway, but also some winning momentum heading into the crucial encounter against Afghanistan on Tuesday.
Zimbabwe lost 4-1 to Afghanistan in a one-day international series in Sharjah last month.
“They are all big games so you can’t take any team lightly, but we know Afghanistan are strong and the inform side at the moment…it would be good for us to get a win to start the tournament and to make sure our confidence is good going into that fixture on Tuesday,” Streak said.
The hosts are expected to keep faith in the side from the warm-up match against Papua New Guinea on Thursday, which they won comfortably by five wickets, with two of their batsmen retiring.
The explosive pair of Cephas Zhuwao and Solomon Mire opened the batting during that match with veteran Hamilton Masakadza batting at number three and Streak hinted that there would be no changes to the top order.
“Everyone knows that Cephas is an opening batsman and Solomon has had success there, while Hamilton is the one guy who’s had good success batting at three and his numbers are good, so we felt that that’s quite a good combination having two dangerous players upfront and having stable middle order, but obviously the guys still have to perform,” he said.
All-rounder Sean Williams is expected to miss the opening match, but Streak said “there’s a chance he might be ready for Afghanistan”.
Each side will play the other teams in their group once with the top three from the groups progressing to the Super Six.
The teams will each play three Super Six matches against the sides they did not meet in the group stage. All points won in the groups (two for a win, one for a no-result and zero for a loss) will be carried over to the Super Six stage apart from those gained against the bottom two from each group.
The top two teams in the Super Six stage will qualify for the World Cup and also contest the final to be played at Harare Sports Club on March 25.
ICC World Cup Qualifiers Fixtures:
Today: Afghanistan v Scotland (Bulawayo Athletic Club, 9:30am), Papua New Guinea v United Arab Emirates (Harare Sports Club, 9:30am), Ireland v Netherlands (Old Hararians, 9:30am), Zimbabwe v Nepal (Queens Sports Club, Bulawayo, 9:30am)
Tuesday: Hong Kong v Scotland (Bulawayo Athletic Club, 9:30am), Ireland v Papua New Guinea (Harare Sports Club, 9:30am), United Arab Emirates v West Indies (Old Hararians, 9:30am), Zimbabwe v Afghanistan (Queens Sports Club, 9:30am)