WELLINGTON — Zimbabwe, over the years, had been a force to reckon with, when the likes of Murray Goodwin, Neil Johnson and the Flower brothers took the country’s cricket to the next level where they were no longer the minnows but considered by many a team tailor-made for one-day cricket.
But a landslide is always round the corner when sports play second fiddle to politics as Zimbabwe, slowly, but surely, were giving in to discrimination with President Robert Mugabe at the helm of affairs. From being a nation of free people, it soon slumped to the levels of dictatorship which not only meant the death of democracy but also the death of cricket.
Although the nation seems to have come out of its dark phase, Zimbabwe cricket is no longer the same force, and is back to where it started — as minnows.
Strengths: Batting has always been Zimbabwe’s talking point as the team carries the legacy of Andy Flower, Alastair Campbell and David Houghton who are regarded as the stalwarts of Zimbabwean cricket. The current team boasts the likes of Sikandar Raza, Hamilton Masakadza and Brendan Taylor, who, on their day can do a fair bit of damage to the opposition bowling. Taylor has been a thorn in the flesh of the opposition for quite some time and Zimbabwe would be looking for some motivation from their go-to man.
Fielding is possibly Zimbabwe’s best part as the team is full of athletes who can throw themselves around in the outfield. Players like Tinashe Panyangara and Tawanda Mupariwa are blessed with a very strong arm. The inner-ring of fielders almost makes a circle of web which makes life difficult for the batsmen looking to get away from the strike.
Weaknesses: Batting is just not strong enough to pose a threat to the opposition as the middle-order lacks experience and exposure at the international level. Quite often in the recent past the Zimbabweans have been bowled out before their quota of 50 overs and batting depth can be a major worry for the team in the World Cup.
Their bowling is nothing to write home about either, with Tinashe Panyangara and Tendai Chatara starting the proceedings along with a couple of spinners — Prosper Utseya and Tafadzwa Kamungozi to name a few. The attack doesn’t have enough penetrative power to inflict any kind of damage to the opposition and Zimbabwe would be more of a restrictive side, looking to contain the other teams rather than picking up wickets.
Opportunities: The tournament will be more of a learning curve for the players who lack experience and exposure at the international level. The likes of Sean Williams, Craig Ervine and Solomon Mire will get an opportunity to rub shoulders with the likes of Gayles, Warners and Kohlis that can in one way transform them into better players. The team does not really look like the one to cause any major upsets in the tournament, but cricket is a funny game and any team that treats them like minnows might be in for a surprise
There is very little chance that they can actually pose a threat to any of the big teams but with the new rules of five fielders in the circle, Zimbabwe, with their fielding and accurate bowling, can make life difficult for some of the teams and any team that takes them lightly might pay a heavy price as we should not forget that they are not like other minnows where the occasion can get the better of the team. With Taylor and Masakadza in the side, Zimbabwe can set the cat among the pigeons if they can strike as a unit.
Threats: The middle-order just does not hold enough value in terms of runs scored and number of matches played as experience is always a key factor in big tournaments. Lack of strike bowlers may come back to hurt the Zimbabweans and playing five bowlers is also not an option for them as it makes their batting even more vulnerable. The part-times might come in handy, but then again the problem with non-regular bowlers is that you always run the risk of getting hit or bowling one loose ball every over.
Brendon Taylor: Coming in at No 4, Taylor can be the player who can make the difference between winning and losing for the Zimbabweans. The Australians were at the receiving end of Taylor’s bite as Zimbabwe strolled to a five-wicket victory in the first edition of the T20 World Cup. With batting being a major worry, a lot will depend on Taylor and his form. With already six centuries in his kitty, the middle-order will solely depend on his shoulders.
Hamilton Masakadza: Having played close to 150 one-day internationals, Masakadza is probably one of the most experienced players in the line-up and is a key member of the squad. Batting at the top of the order, Masakadza will be responsible for getting his team off to good starts and set the tone for rest of the innings. To add to that, he has four ODI centuries in his bag, which makes him more than capable of doing the job.
Tawanda Mupariwa: The bowling will rest on the shoulders of Mupariwa who has been more than impressive with the new ball and has one of the best records among the team’s bowling unit. Might not be the quickest of all, but Mupariwa has the ability to extract anything that is there in the track which makes him a dangerous customer. Having played 35 matches, he has picked up 55 wickets with a strike-rate of 32.2. That speaks volumes of his abilities to make inroads.
Prosper Utseya: Utseya has been another player who has played a lot of matches and brings in the required experience to the bowling attack. His off-spinners can come in handy in the middle overs and with the pitches getting slower and lower in the World Cup, one can expect him to make an impact in the match. With 160 ODI matches along with 130 wickets, Utseya will be the man teams should be mindful of when they face Zimbabwe.
Craig Ervine, who almost lost his career to a freak accident, came back to the Zimbabwean side and immediately made an impact with the bat in the middle order.
The elegant left-hander is a free-flowing stroke-maker who can up the ante in the middle overs if required. Ervine might be a little short on experience, having just played 25 matches, but packs a punch when he bats and can surprise a few teams with his ability to hit the big shots.
Chances in Group B:
Zimbabwe have been slotted with teams like South Africa, India, West Indies and Pakistan that will not make life easier for them but India and Pakistan have a tendency of having a really off day in the field which, if it happens, will get the Zimbabweans right back in contention for a spot in the last eight, but that might just be stretching it too far. However, against United Arab Emirates and Ireland, other two minnows in the group, Zimbabwe will go in as clear favourites. — Agencies