Taibu and the boys raring to go

By Thomas Shenje

THIS week we introduce Bat and Ball, a new Zimbabwe Cricket Union column that will cover all aspects of cricket.


T

HE Zimbabwe cricket team is now in Pakistan, after participating in the International Cricket Council Champions Trophy in England.


Buoyed by their performances at the championship, captain Tatenda Taibu and his charges are raring to tuck into the triangular series that also involves Sri Lanka.


Action started yesterday.


The Zimbabwe squad comprises Taibu, his deputy Dion Ebrahim, Brendan Taylor, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Mark Vermeulen, Vusi Sibanda, Elton Chigumbura, Alester Maregwede, Douglas Hondo, Tinashe Panyangara, Tawanda Mupariwa, Mluleki Nkala, Prosper Utseya, Edward Rainsford and Alexander Cremer.


Mohammed Meman is the manager, Philip Simmons the coach, Dean Woodford the fitness trainer and Amato Machikicho the physiotherapist. Tinashe Ruswa is the computer analyst.


Zimbabwe played the hosts in the first match of the tournament, at the Multan Cricket Stadium. They play again three days later, this time at the Arbab Niaz Stadium in Peshawar.


The Zimbabwe team then travels to Islamabad and will play Sri Lanka at the Pindi Stadium, Rawalpindi, on October 9 and then again the following Monday. If they qualify for the final, they travel from Islamabad to Lahore for the decider, which is set for the Gaddafi Stadium in the Pakistani capital. Should they not qualify, the Zimbabwe team will travel to Dubai, en route home.


Whichever route they take will, of course, be determined by how they perform at the tournament. Captain Taibu says the lads are raring to go.


“We always play to win. That’s our attitude all the time and that’s how we always take to the field.”


The tour started with a draw. In their first innings, Zimbabwe were all out for 215 in 79 overs, Elton Chigumbura again leading the way as he put up 81 runs. But on the second day of the match against the Pakistan Cricket Board Chairman’s XI at Sheikupura the Zimbabwe bowlers did not have a good day at the office and the home side finished on 398-2, with Ashar Zaidi posting a double ton.


For Zimbabwe, it was Alexander Cremer, brought into the squad for the longer game after the ICC Champions Trophy, who took both wickets to finish with 2 for 69.


The second match, a four-day game against the Pakistan Cricket Board Patron’s XI, saw the Zimbabwe side go down to an innings defeat at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.


Zimbabwe will be hoping to build on the positives from the ICC Champions Trophy and from the two matches in Pakistan. Coach Phil Simmons said about the games played to date: “The message is to take something positive from defeats and I am trying to get this young team to a stage where they do not get into the habit of losing.”


The Zimbabweans were branded the whipping boys at the ICC tournament but the majority of the squad – fresh from the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup tournament in Bangladesh – answered the call of duty to represent their country at senior level.


The Zimbabwe team has been plagued with controversy following the withdrawal of labour by 15 senior players over issues that are board prerogatives, namely captaincy appointment and the structure and complement of the selection panel. There were also accusations and counter-accusations of racism.


However, Zimbabwe emerged from the ICC Champions Trophy with their heads high. They lost both their Pool D matches but won respect and admiration for the performances they put up.


On the opening day of the tournament, the Zimbabweans shook off initial stage-fright to stretch England with some fine handiwork that was described by Henry Blofeld in The Independent (UK) of September 11 2004 as “a brilliant exhibition of fielding and exceptional catches by Dougie Hondo and Tatenda Taibu”.


Zimbabwe lost that match by 152-runs, but did not let the defeat pull them down.


Their second match of the tournament was against the vastly experienced Sri Lankans, whose batting and bowling line-ups read like the “who is who” of international cricket. Former one-day world champions, they occupy pride of place on the rankings still, albeit in the shadow of the reigning champions.

The story of that match is best told by David Smith of BBC’s Channel Four:


“Sri Lanka defeated Zimbabwe by four wickets at the Oval, with six overs remaining, but the star of the match was the 18-year-old Zimbabwean all-rounder Elton Chigumbura. This precocious talent rescued a Zimbabwean innings that had struggled to 85-6 with a composed, high-quality innings of 57, which helped them reach a competitive total of 191.


“He then ensured that Sri Lanka did not have it all their own way by dismissing three of Sri Lanka’s best players, Marvan Atapattu (43), Saman Jayantha (36) and Mahela Jayawardene (28), when all were well set, with brisk, well-directed medium-pace.”


What a coincidence! In welcoming Sri Lanka to Zimbabwe earlier this year, Zimbabwe Cricket Union chairman Peter Chingoka said in his foreword for the tour brochure:

“But the tourists, oozing though they may be with talent and experience, will not have it all their way as the Zimbabwe team is imbued with a fighting spirit that has earned it international renown. Lacking in experience but not talent, the hosts continue climbing the learning curve as we seek to build a competitive side for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 tournament to be hosted in the Caribbean.”


While many now see that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel for the Zimbabwe Cricket Union’s development programme, for the senior team, the jury is still out. Cynics would do well to heed the words of Zimbabwe captain Tatenda Taibu:


“It has been hard, especially early on. But it has made me learn that things don’t go my way all the time. I have to be patient with these boys to help them improve later on in life.”