THE second Castle Lager/MTN Test between Zimbabwe and hosts South Africa starting this morning at Centurion, comes at a critical time for Zimbabwe cricket after the two-day defeat in the first
Test in Cape Town on Saturday.
The Zimbabwe players now need to quickly put everything behind them and fight to, at the very least, take the second and final Test match to the fifth day.
After sliding to an innings and 21-run defeat inside two days in the first Test in Cape Town last weekend, Zimbabwe must come out today the more fighting side and grab the initiative early.
An important point that Zimbabwe have to prove to the world is that they can play competitively against the top teams in the world, especially with crucial home series against New Zealand and India coming up later in the year.
Welcome as it was, the return of former captain Heath Streak and all-rounder Andy Blignaut to the Zimbabwe team was not enough to save the side from an emphatic defeat at the hands of a South African outfit that clearly did not predict everything to go their way as it turned out.
Streak bowled good overs when the South Africans batted, but bowling on a paltry 54 runs set by Zimbabwe, nothing could stop the South Africans from enjoying a stroll in the park when they were replying.
Blignaut showed no signs of rust after his year-long lay-off from international cricket, smashing 68 runs off just 38 balls, and accounting for spinner Nicky Boje whom he hit for 24 runs in one over.
Zimbabwe skipper Tatenda Taibu, who has been lucky with the tosses so far on the tour, will be hoping for an improvement on his personal form and that his side stay a bit longer at the crease.
If Zimbabwe bat first, the objective will be to bat through the first day. That will only happen if most of the batsmen avoid soft dismissals and get adequate runs on the board. Zimbabwe’s undoing in the ODI series and the first innings of the first Test was the inconsistency of the key batsmen in the team.
A serious resistance against the South Africans requires the likes of openers Barney Rogers and Stuart Matsikenyeri to put up a good opening partnership, and then Hamilton Masakadza and Dion Ebrahim to repeat their well-played second innings performance. Then the middle order of Taibu, Elton Chigumbura, Streak and Blignaut would be called upon to consolidate the innings.
After that the bowlers have to bowl tight spells and push the South Africans.
Zimbabwe need to earn the respect of the South Africans early on in the match and the way they bowl or bat on the first day will be crucial in determining the outcome of the match.
Away from South Africa, the Zimbabwe “A” team players who complete their series against Bangladesh “A” with the final one-day match in Bulawayo tomorrow are knocking on the selectors’ door for the next international assignments.
Indications are that there may be several changes to the Zimbabwe line-up for the home series against New Zealand. Some of the Zimbabwe “A” players who consistently played well against Bangladesh “A” are opening batsman Terrence Duffin, spin bowler and batsman Keith Dabengwa, pace bowler Campbell McMillan and young batsman Chamunorwa Chibhabha.
Duffin is perhaps the most consistent player outside the national team at the moment, and should consider himself unlucky to have been left out of the South African tour after not getting a chance to prove himself in Bangladesh on his first national call-up. But the good thing is that Duffin did not let the disappointment get the better of him. He approached the Bangladesh “A” matches in the right frame of mind, and acknowledged their bearing on selection into the senior national team.
In the bowling department, the fast McMillan showed signs of maturity and improved wicket-taking ability with the new ball. It might be the right time to test his talent at the highest level.
Dabengwa exhibited his all-round talents in the first one-day match, scoring an unbeaten 50 runs and taking five for 19 with his left-arm orthodox spin. Players such as Dabengwa are special in the Zimbabwe cricket set-up. He has played first-class cricket for more than two years and has acquired a good foundation for international cricket.
It will be interesting to see which other Zimbabwe “A” players will graduate into the first team in the next 12 months or so, as the national team players will also be playing in the same domestic competitions used as criterion for selection into the team. The “A” side will tour Kenya on completion of the series against Bangladesh “A”.