By Enock Muchinjo
AS the England one-day international series approaches, Zimbabwe players who were on tour in England and Pakistan last month appear to be aware of the need for them to
consolidate their places in the team in the wake of fringe and uncapped players emerging as serious contenders for slots in the team to face the visitors.
Fine batting performances by captain Tatenda Taibu and his vice Dion Ebrahim, who both scored centuries in the Logan Cup first-round matches, were the most notable by players who toured last month.
All-rounder Mluleki Nkala shrugged off his poor batting form on tour, scoring 64 runs in the first innings of Matabeleland’s match against Mashonaland and following up that with a quicksilver 30 runs in the second innings.
Ebrahim and Nkala in particular needed to do extremely well in those first matches to gain confidence for the upcoming matches which will be crucial in the selection process. After failing to bat with the command expected of the oldest and most experienced players in the team, the two Bulawayo childhood friends would want to retain their places in the team and redeem themselves.
There is no doubt about the abilities of the two. Ebrahim is a consistent first-class performer who needs to come out of his shell in international cricket, while Nkala can be Zimbabwe’s best all-rounder and a capable match winner on his day, if he lives up to the promise he showed at the beginning of his international career.
Other batsmen who were in the Zimbabwe side had modest totals in the Logan Cup first round, but they can take comfort in that just a few batsmen in their sides played a blinder.
After seeing his bowling take a bit of a nose-dive in the Paktel Trophy in Pakistan, young Elton Chigumbura came back home determined to maintain his all-round talents, taking four Matabeleland first-innings wickets from just 9,3 overs. Earlier he had put up a defiant half-century in the middle of the order when Mashonaland batted.
The rest of the players who were part of the national team in the last two months will be hoping for better fortunes, especially in the forthcoming Faithwear series, which is likely to have more bearing on selection for the England series as it is a one-day competition.
Matabeleland batsman Mark Vermeulen, another senior player in the team, really needs to pull up his socks. The same applies to pace bowler Douglas Hondo, who did not take many wickets in the first match.
The bowler needs – like Vermeulen, Nkala and Ebrahim – to play with the authority his senior role requires.
Zimbabwe’s bowling department might see some changes for the England matches. The team will do with quality back-up bowlers.
Of the available players, Matabeleland medium pacer Tawanda Mupariwa should be on the prowl after not getting matches in England and Pakistan, while Midlands and national Under-19 fast bowler Ian Nicholson is coming on well.
Uncapped batsmen like Kuda Samunderu, Chamunorwa Chibhabha and spin-bowling all-rounder Keith Dabengwa might fancy their chances after they all scored half-centuries for their provinces. Then there is the tried-and-tested pair of Barney Rogers and Gavin Ewing.
Meanwhile, the Namibian team arrives in the country in a few days to help Zimbabwe prepare for the England series. The Namibians are also set to make their debut in the Faithwear limited-overs series, becoming the first foreign team to play in a domestic competition.
The Faithwear matches start on Tuesday. They will be played periodically, with the last batch of matches to be played four days before the first game against England.
Namibia will play their fist game against the Midlands at the CFX Cricket Academy in Harare next Tuesday. On the same day, Mashonaland will play Matabeleland at Harare Sports Club, hoping to register a double over their rivals who they beat comfortably in the Logan Cup last week. Manicaland will be on a bye.
On Wednesday, Namibia will engage a Zimbabwe Select side at the CFX Academy in between the Faithwear matches, which will resume on Friday.
Midlands will host Mashonaland in Kwekwe, with Manicaland and Namibia squaring up at the CFX Academy. Namibia will then play against the Zimbabwe Select team at the Old Georgians Sports Club next Saturday.
Although Namibia played at the last ICC Cricket World Cup 2003 tournament hosted by South Africa, with other matches in Zimbabwe and Kenya, cricket is still in its infancy in that country.
Nonetheless, Namibia’s participation in the Faithwear series will provide some barometer to measure the depth of Zimbabwe cricket, especially when the provincial sides are made up of young and inexperienced players. The Namibians may be less talented but they have good first-class experience and will have in their side some of their World Cup players.