From failure to qualify for the World Cup to yet another pay-related crisis, there has been no dearth of setbacks for Zimbabwean cricket in this year so far. Thus, the Chevrons will be seeking a turnaround in fortunes as they embark upon a short limited-overs tour to South Africa, beginning with the first ODI at Kimberley on September 30. Zimbabwe will face a strong Proteas side in three ODIs and as many T20Is, and needless to say, they have their task cut out.
Zimbabwe can take heart from the fact that they will have the services of most of their key players in South Africa. After having pulled out of Zimbabwe’s latest assignments – at home against Australia and Pakistan – due to the long-standing dispute with Zimbabwe Cricket over non-payment of salaries, the likes of Brendan Taylor, Sean Williams, and Craig Ervine will again be seen in national colors. Their return injects a welcome dose of experience to the squad.
South Africa have proven to be imposing opponents for Zimbabwe over the years, as a record of 35 wins from 38 ODIs suggests, and in all probability, the trend is likely to continue in the coming week. Zimbabwe’s two wins came in May 1999 (in a memorable World Cup game at Chelmsford) and January 2000 respectively, during a time when the national team was arguably at its strongest. It will take some doing if Zimbabwe are to provide glimpses of those heydays.
Seldom have we seen an ODI series as one-sided as the one won by Pakistan in Zimbabwe two months ago. Whether Zimbabwe batted or bowled first, Pakistan simply trampled over them in all five matches. The hosts endured two defeats by margins of over 200 runs, the second of which was inflicted through a humungous Pakistani total of 399/1, and in between, were rolled over for 67. Only once did they manage to bat out the 50 overs and post a total of more than 200.
The impact of the top players’ absence was amply reflected in the defeats that constituted a harrowing series for Zimbabwe, particularly for captain Hamilton Masakadza, whose experience – he has been around since 2001 – was just not enough to hide his team’s inadequacies. Now that Taylor, Williams, and Ervine are back, he will breathe a sigh of relief, even though Graeme Cremer (injured) and Sikandar Raza (late compromise with the board) are still missing in action, even as the latter is slated for a return against Bangladesh.
Another positive development for Zimbabwe ahead of the South African tour has been the recovery of fast bowler Kyle Jarvis as well as hard-hitting opener Solomon Mire, both of whom suffered injuries during the T20I tri-series with Australia and Pakistan. Mire was the standout batsman for Zimbabwe in the T20I tri-series, with a tally of 212 at an average of 53. South Africa would do well to be wary of him, for he has the ability to get his team off to a flying start.
Despite the strengthening of the Zimbabwean squad, there is little doubt that South Africa start as favorites for the ODI series. The Proteas might be shorn of some of their best batsmen – captain Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla on account of injuries, as also the rested duo of Quinton de Kock and David Miller, but JP Duminy will lead a side that should still be able to dictate terms. It is on the bowling front that South Africa have a distinct advantage over Zimbabwe.
Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Imran Tahir, themselves making for a potent trio that can rattle the best, will be joined by the great Dale Steyn, who is making an ODI comeback after two years. The prolific paceman has been injury-ridden for the best part of the last three years, so one wonders whether playing this ODI series is a good idea, considering that he wishes to prolong his Test career. But then, he knows best, and perhaps the 2019 World Cup is on his horizon.
As for Zimbabwe’s bowling attack, the return of Jarvis has been considerably neutralized by the loss of the promising seamer Blessing Muzarabani, who signed a Kolpak deal with Northamptonshire earlier this month. Jarvis will be aided by Tendai Chatara, Donald Tiripano and Elton Chigumbura in the pace department, while spinning responsibilities will be handled by off-spinner Tinashe Kamunhukamwe and leg-spinner Brandon Mavuta in the absence of Cremer.
It goes without saying that the greater onus will be on the batsmen if Zimbabwe aim to upstage the hosts in an ODI after more than 18 years. If they collectively fire as a unit, there is no reason why a line-up having Masakadza and Mire at the top, followed by the dependable Taylor and Williams, and rounded off by Ervine, Peter Moor, and Chigumbura, cannot overpower the might of the South African bowling.
South Africa may have been trounced by a dynamic Indian side at home in February, but they secured a redeeming 3-2 win in Sri Lanka in August and will take nothing less than a clean sweep with sizeable margins of victory. Zimbabwe’s primary aim would be to show that they are not the pushovers they are often made out to be, and a win would certainly be a delightful bonus.
Here’s hoping for a competitive series between the African neighbors.