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Surely not a bad side?

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Zimbabwe managed to beat India ‘A’ (if I may call it that) convincingly…an 'A' side with the likes of Rohit Sharma and this author’s favorite young Indian player, Suresh Raina. Some argue that these two did their jobs well (and also a certain Ravindra Jadeja), but it was the failure of the other eight players that did India in. They simply refuse to believe that Zimbabwe can be good.

Here’s to them: They were.

Who are these eight players who made up the rest of the 'A' side? They are the people expected to make an impact for India in the very near future. (Looking at their performance against Zimbabwe, I can only pray that they didn’t take this one match seriously). Going back to the Zimbabwean team, the side is almost good enough to make an impact at the 2011 World Cup with minor tweaking and a couple of replacements. The majority of this African side deserves to be in the World Cup, and let’s see why.

It is no great secret that Elton Chigumbura, the current skipper, is their best batsman. He played a major role in the victory against Pakistan in the T20 WC warm-up match and single-handedly made a mountain of their otherwise-would-have-been small total against Australia. I still think Australia would have won that match if they had sent in Micheal Hussey instead of the likes of Johnson, Haddin & Smith. Clarke’s brain indeed works in mysterious ways. Ah, I digress again.

Is it right to give your best batsman, the one who already has a huge responsibility to do beyond his best with the bat, an additional responsibility of captaincy? Would that be an opportunity or burden? An opportunity to show that he can do more and a burden in the sense that it is immensely difficult to overcome that challenge, given that all the teams they will face at the World cup would be better ODI sides. He seems to take it in the stride,though, with that 16 ball 24 that saw them through against India, but his captaincy is one thing that could backfire in highly important games.

India decided to bat first the other day. A lot has been going on in the minds of people who couldn’t watch the proceedings for themselves. 'Did they bowl that well or was our batting so poor?' A bit of both, actually. While Mpofu bowled at all the right places in his initial spell, he bowled as though he knew it was going to the boundary when Rohit was on the rampage, showing that there is still quite a distance to go for the quick bowler. The spinners bowled in tandem at an extremely high over rate (or so I felt), keeping the batsmen from thinking too much. However, as we saw in the warm-ups against Pakistan and Australia (and other matches before that), Utseya is more than capable of luring the batsmen towards their doom and Ray Price has enough experience to modify his tactics (as against freaking out) if plan A doesn’t seem to work. Lamb is a good spinner considering that he is a batting all rounder (isn’t he?) while Cremer is not the bowler I’d look at, if I need a quick wicket or if I need to keep the run rate down. In short, he has a long way to go to be a good bowler against the top sides. His career bowling average of 23.7 is only a reflection of his performances against the likes of Kenya and Bangladesh. Zimbabwe need another good bowler there. A returning veteran-spinner (if any) wouldn’t help as much given they already have one, but does anyone else get the feeling that Mpofu lacks a good opening bowling partner? Rainsford hasn’t done anything notice-worthy at the international level so far. Doesn't a blazing-fast bowler out of nowhere sound good? The other link in the bowling unit, Andy Blignaut, is good, but they need him to a lot more economical, going at less than at least 5 runs per over on an average, if there is to be any impact.

Their batting looked all rosy against India, but I would attribute it to the lack of international bowling experience in all three Indian non-spinners. Mishra’s bowling looked more mature, but it was definitely far from the performance you would expect from your most experienced specialist bowler. However, I should admit that the Zimbabwean batsmen played well with everyone crossing 25 (Elton would have if he had one more ball to thump). This is not a scenario you can expect against any major ODI side. Someone is bound to fail; either to an astonishingly good delivery or a reckless shot. So, the ensuing matches in the tournament will give us a better picture of their batting abilities. From an overall view, Elton, Ervine and Hamilton look good for all kinds of batting, wham-bham or block. Taibu and Taylor can play anchor pretty well, while Coventry still has to prove his worth against bigger and better sides. Utseya can play a good partnership with a batsman at the other end if needed and Blignaut can launch a ball or two over the ropes. Sibanda is a good third opening option, while they should look for that next Alaistair Campbell or Andy Flower to fill in the other place for a batsman in the squad in Chibhabha’s place (Wishful thinking - very). Till then, the current unit should do. Training this unit for the World Cup sounds like a solid option to me (except for the captaincy part there). Of course, the strength of your batsmen is more important when you play in the Subcontinent and that is an advantage to Zimbabwe. What do you think?

With Alan Butcher doing a good job (so far) as the Coach, Fletcher conducting workshops all around, players returning to the squad and Heath Streak returning to the thick of things (they badly needed a bowling trainer, those quickies), there seems to be hope all around for a better future. People are still quite afraid to invest in Zimbabwe Cricket, but the team needs that support if it is to consistently play well at this level. Here’s hoping that this tournament might quell all that fear, as they show the world that they are as good as the rest at this game.

Yes, they are as good as the rest. But then, Zimbabwe was supposedly as good as the rest a few years ago as well…and a few years before that too.

Let’s just hope this isn’t another false alarm.
 



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