Don’t stretch our patience too far

IndependentSport View By Darlington Majonga


WILL anyone spin again the song Ask Peter should Zimbabwe dish out another dreary recital in a best-of-five one-day international series against Bangladesh starting next week?


Probably yes, maybe not.


In the last two years Zimbabwe Cricket leaders have inescapably endured loads of stick and hooey rammed up the cranny over the national team’s wretchedness on the field of play.


It has been natural to excuse Zimbabwe’s poor performance on the off-field wrangling that almost brought the game to its knees.


They are only greenhorns thrown into the deep end to save face for Zimbabwe after Heath Streak and his band of experienced players walked out on national duty, we have all understood.


But the way losing is becoming banal for Zimbabwe could be stretching our patience a bit far.


It’s high time Kevin Curran and his boys were judged for their competence or lack of it on the field of play.


Zimbabwe’s performance since the player rebellion has at worst been woeful and at best unconvincing.


Winning eight of their last 23 games — since KC took over from Phil Simmons — doesn’t appear awful progress for a rebuilding side.


But when five of those wins come against Kenya, Canada and Bermuda on top of heavy losses to meaningful opposition, it surely doesn’t bode well for a side eager to resume Test cricket in November 2007.


What must be worrying KC more, however, is the failure by his side to maintain consistency.


The last ODI series against Bangladesh — which Zimbabwe eventually won 3-2 — as well as the poor show at the ICC Champions Trophy just went over the boundary to prove the yoyo disposition of KC’s boys.


Still, we have all been patient. We have given the boys time to find their footing and mature in the international thing.


They have to a certain extent found their footing, but maturity still seems ages away.


One thing that no one disputes is that Zimbabwe are massively talented, but so far they have not been good enough. And can they be good enough?


So far, the cricket fraternity remains on tenterhooks, unsure how Zimbabwe will cope.


When will Zimbabwe start winning again (against top opposition)? When will Zimbabwe become competitive again?


These are just but a few questions the cricket fraternity — at home and abroad — would want answered.


However, for now, everyone wants to know: will Zimbabwe beat Bangladesh again?


Bangladesh is a tough examination for KC and his charges.


Before the player crisis in 2004, this is a question no one would have imagined.


Now skipper Prosper Utseya and his colleagues will certainly be hard-pressed to show us they are coming of age or at least learning with every game that passes.


Victory over Bangladesh had become routine for Zimbabwe until March 10 2004 when the Tigers skimmed to their maiden ODI win at Harare Sports Club since joining the elite Test league four years earlier.


A Bangladesh total of 238 seemed modest for Zimbabwe to chase — though Streak, Douglas Hondo, Sean Ervine, Grant Flower and Raymond Price had been expected to do a better job with the ball.


As Grant sauntered from the pavilion to open the innings for Zimbabwe, defeat at the hands of Bangladesh seemed inconceivable.


And no one might have panicked when Grant was trapped leg-before on two after facing just five balls: Zimbabwe still had Stuart Carlisle, Tatenda Taibu, Dion Ebrahim, Ervine and Streak to look to.


But by the time Streak became the seventh wicket on 30 in the 45th over with Zimbabwe on 199, the unimaginable was about to happen.


The moment Hondo was clean-bowled by Tareq Aziz after facing one ball, Price and Blessing Mahwire found it challenging to muster nine runs to win from the remaining four balls.


It was a shock.


This appeared only a slip-up resulting from complacency on the part of the experienced Zimbabwe side that most people thought was a one-off thing and probably the Tigers felt the same way as well.


But that defeat was to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.


The player revolt that followed the shock defeat left Zimbabwe unable to field a team that would easily overpower Bangladesh. Of course the rebellion was over other issues unrelated to the defeat.


Bangladesh went on to record their first-ever Test as well as ODI series wins against a weakened Zimbabwe in January 2005.


Understandably, Bangladesh returned to Zimbabwe in August, two years later, donning the favourites’ tag.


To the relief of Zimbabwe, the hosts overcame the Tigers 3-2 to enjoy their place in the sun — albeit for a short while.


When Zimbabwe’s youthful players had the wooden spoon shoved in their mouths at last month’s ICC Champions Trophy in India, it must have been a wake-up call that there’s more to international cricket than beating Bangladesh.


And that Zimbabwe were hapless in India against the same Bangladesh side they had beaten barely two months earlier must have reminded them they had not moved the distance they probably thought they had covered.


Inevitably, the international cricket fraternity’s patience with Zimbabwe could be on the wane if tangible progress and consistency remain alien to the boys.


One thing that Zimbabwe’s young players have to realise is that they are no longer placeholders — waiting for Streak, Andy and Grant Flower as well as Price, Taibu, Ervine, Andy Blignaut and Stuart Carlisle to return to reclaim their places.


While the return of the Streak and other experienced players would provide a much-needed fillip to Zimbabwe’s standing in international cricket, the best for now is for KC’s boys to realise that might not happen.


They have to be world-beaters themselves. And that starts with beating Bangladesh, who have unsurprisingly taken over Zimbabwe in ODI rankings.


Bangladesh have managed to keep all their players together, only dropping on form basis. We hope Zimbabwe is coming to such a stage soon. Retention of talent is crucial.


Back home, the domestic calendar announced by Zimbabwe Cricket this week is encouraging to say the least.


The packed season is a major step towards the rehabilitation of the game following the disruptions caused by player upheavals over the last two years.


We have no doubt the season will be competitive and will expose players to more competition as Zimbabwe rebuilds.


It would have been great to have established sides such as Old Georgians and Universals back in the national league, which we believe is far better than social cricket.


Hopefully the Zimbabwe A side will also get as much competition as possible — even if it means playing in South Africa — before we think about Test resumption.


Lastly, we trust cricket administrators — both within and without the set-up — can finally resolve their squabbles amicably, unite for the good of the game and leave us to play Ask KC & His Boys.


dmajonga@yahoo.com

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