HAMILTON — Zimbabwe have seen the light, literally.
They requested to train under the glare of Seddon Park’s pylons as they gear up to take on South Africa in their World Cup opener in Hamilton tomorrow morning.
The game starts at 0300hrs.
For most teams, there’s nothing unusual about that, but for Zimbabwe, who have played little more than a fifth of their one-day international (ODI)s under lights, getting used to changing conditions is essential.
Only 94 of Zimbabwe’s 437 games have been day-night games, compared with 251 of the 528 matches South Africa have played under lights, and none of them took place at home.
Zimbabwe’s financial situation, not their electrical one, is to blame. Pylons at Harare Sports Club were built years ago, but have lain barren as the lights, ordered from abroad, waited at the airport for customs fees to be paid so they could be put up.
They have since been accounted for and transported to the ground but have not gone up, because Zimbabwe Cricket have not been able to afford the cost of getting them installed.
As a result, Zimbabwe’s experience of cricket under lights has been severely restricted. All five ODIs they played in Bangladesh on the November-December tour last year were day-night games but before that, they last played one in New Zealand in February 2012.
They lost all those encounters. The last time Zimbabwe won a day-night ODI was almost five years ago, against Bangladesh in Dhaka in October 2009, which does not bode well for them at this World Cup.
All but one of Zimbabwe’s group matches — the one against the United Arab Emirates — are day-night games so they need to get used to changing conditions and the impact that will have on game plans.
“We’re not too sure whether we’d prefer to defend or chase under lights, it will all depend on the conditions on the day and just what we see,” Hamilton Masakadza told ESPNcricinfo.
“It’s something we need to get a bit of a feel for and adjust to soon.”
Night-time conditions are challenging because the moisture caused by dew impacts all three aspects of the game. That’s why, instead of spending yesterday evening in the pub, Zimbabwe decided to experience match-day conditions. It is their only opportunity to do that, after both warm-up games were played in daylight hours.
While it’s all too easy to make snide comments about the lack of power in Zimbabwe, South Africa may not be uttering too many of them because they may be reminded of the situation in their own country. There, load shedding is the worst it’s ever been. Scheduled blackouts occur a few times a week, for hours at a time in particular areas, privately owned generators are the latest must-haves and there is talk of a countrywide plunge into darkness.
When the South African team set off for the World Cup, their charismatic Sports minister Fikile Mbalula, along with demanding they do not return a “bunch of losers”, told them that the more they win, the likelier it is that the country will be able to “forget about load-shedding”, and bask in the rays of success.
He did not explain how those same people would be able to keep track of their team, when television and the Internet are likely to cut off at any moment. For that, South Africans will have to look to their neighbours.
Zimbabwe have dealt with a lack of light for years and have learnt to make the most of it, when it is available. Just look at their cricket team.