Qualification no easy task for Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe will be banking on their captain Hamilton Masakadza to continue his impressive form © Chris Whiteoak

Big picture

Zimbabwe, as Full Members of the ICC, feel they should be part of major global tournaments. Their performances, though, do not always allow them that privilege.

Ranked 12th in ODIs, Zimbabwe have no chance of playing the 2017 Champions Trophy and perhaps not even the 2019 World Cup, which will feature only 10 teams. They are ranked even lower in T20Is, in 13th position, which is why they have to qualify for this event.

Ahead of them are Afghanistan, Scotland and Hong Kong, and Zimbabwe will possibly have to beat two of them to make it to the main draw. Still, the ask for Zimbabwe is tough and though they may not want to admit it, they will have to punch above their weight just to earn the right to play with the big boys.

That’s not to say Zimbabwe have not been preparing. They have spent time in the UAE, warming up against the likes of West Indies and Ireland. Most of their players have just come off a long run of T20 cricket in the domestic tournament at home and some have been playing in competitions like the PSL. Zimbabwe have done their homework, now it’s about passing the test.

They already faced the first hurdle when three members of their initial squad were ruled out with injury at the training camp in the UAE. Newly-appointed vice-captain Graeme Cremer, Neville Madziva and Luke Jongwe were all sent home while Donald Tiripano, Chamu Chibhabha and Tawanda Mupariwa were added to the squad. Those changes will not only affect the balance of the XI, but could also impact the morale of the side. Despite these setbacks, their focus needs to be on staying positive because too often, they have been tripped up by their own minds. Dav Whatmore is well aware of that and his gentle, caring approach could be what Zimbabwe need to overcome years of under-performance in this format.

Zimbabwe’s T20 record is dismal. They have won just 10 of 48 matches and only three at a World T20, two of those were in the qualifying round. If ever there was a time to change that and prove they belong, it’s now.

At the helm

Little more than a month ago, Zimbabwe’s opening batsman Hamilton Masakadza was appointed captain in all three formats. In a set-up where the leadership has often seemed a revolving door, it was the first time Masakadza had been given the job permanently, after 12 appearances as a stand-in captain. His promotion came just a few months after he was dropped from the national squad, which may be why it took him by surprise. “I have been waiting my turn for such a long time. I never thought it was going to come. I thought it had evaded me,” he said at the time.

Masakadza’s calm demeanor and dedication to his craft will make him an excellent off-field leader. His form will make a him a sterling on-field captain. He gives Zimbabwe certainty at the top of the innings and his new quick-scoring style could set them up for strong totals.

Key stat

318 runs at 63.60.

That’s Hamilton Masakadza’s T20 record in 2016. A week before the World T20, Masakadza led this year’s run charts despite playing fewer matches than his four closest competitors. He was surpassed by Rohit Sharma, who has played 11 matches and Virat Kohli, who has played eight, after the Asia Cup but that will not take away from what seems to be a timely maturing of Masakadza.

With Graeme Cremer missing, Sean Williams’ ability with the ball could come to the fore © AFP/Getty Images

Leading men

With the captaincy duties no longer weighing Elton Chigumbura down, there is no better time for him to prove his potential. As Zimbabwe’s premier allrounder, Chigumbura will be key to his team’s success. Although he is lurching through a lean patch – Chigumbura has not been able to get to double figures in his last six T20Is, which include three ducks – Zimbabwe’s selectors, justifiably, have showed faith in his ability to come good under pressure. Chigumbura scored a match-winning half-century in the last World T20, against UAE, and his desperation to prove himself may pay off.

Graeme Cremer would have been Zimbabwe’s main spinner but his injury-enforced absence means the responsibility has been given to Sean Williams. The left-arm spinner is not as attacking as Cremer, but has proven himself as a shrewd operator, with a stifling economy. Williams is also a nuggety middle-order batsman whose big-match temperament and love of a scrap is crucial to keeping Zimbabwe competitive.

Makhaya Ntini, South Africa’s effervescent former bowler, who was appointed Zimbabwe’s bowling coach, has already been an inspiration by example. Part of Ntini’s charm is his self-belief and his dedication to fitness. Ntini has been running the Zimbabwe players ragged and some reports even suggest he has caused Tinashe Panyangara to drop a few kilograms. But beyond the exercise regimen, Ntini is there for technical advice and he would no doubt offer much to the likes of Panyangara, Tendai Chatara and Tawanda Mupariwa.

Burning question

How will Zimbabwe handle spin?

Perhaps it’s the placid pitches in their own country that have made Zimbabwe so susceptible to anything with a bit of bite, but they will have to be prepared to deal with plenty of turn in India. Although the surfaces used for T20 cricket are not the raging turners of Tests, they will still challenge a team that has not travelled to India since the 2011 World Cup. Not only will Zimbabwe have to come to terms with how to play spin when batting, but also how to use it with the ball. At least, they can take heart from their drawn series in Bangladesh earlier this year and their reasonably good efforts in the UAE during the warm-ups.

World T20 history

Zimbabwe pulled off an epic victory against Australia in the 2007 World T20 but have failed to build on that achievement. In three tournaments since then – Zimbabwe pulled out of the 2009 edition which was hosted in England – they have not beaten a Full Member. They exited the 2010 and 2012 events without any success in the group stage and in 2014, did not even make it to the main draw. They were victorious over Netherlands and United Arab Emirates but it was not enough to see them through.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *