Sobering lessons

Independent Sportview – Darlington Majonga


AFTER helplessly watching South Africa’s Mark Boucher blast his way to an astonishing century with reckless abandon, the safest assumption would have been that the young Zimbabwe cricket

ers broke down and were inconsolable as soon as they got out of sight of the crowd at Potchefstroom’s Sedgars Park.


But they did not disgrace themselves totally, although their 247-4 was too little too late and nothing really to trouble South Africa.


Undeniably, the Zimbabweans looked distraught and nerve-jangled, as stemming the flow of runs seemed to get harder with each attempt. Their lips looked dry, they wiped their brows endlessly and they clutched their heads as if they were going to fall off their shoulders.


Indeed, Zimbabwe looked like they had already resigned themselves to a big thrashing as they struggled to remove South Africa’s openers, Loots Bosman and Alviro Petersen, in the last of their three-match ODI series.


The young tourists dropped catches as if the ball was popping out of a furnace. Considering the spanking Boucher subjected the small ball to with his big bat, there could have been reason for the youngsters to prefer tongs to secure catches.


Even wicky Brendan Taylor put down a regulation catch with his big gloves after Boucher had skied a short delivery into the stratosphere. The batsman was dropped six times yet he could have gone on seven.


The Zimbabwean bowlers flung everything in their bag at their opponents — and wides too as expected in such desperate situations — but still they could not lay into the home batters.


It was a sorrowful sight as skipper Prosper Utseya, renowned for his frugality with the ball, had his off-spin painted all over the field and into the grandstand too. Utseya as well as debutant Tafadzwa Kamungozi and Tawanda Mupariwa each conceded over 70 runs.


Boucher, who reached his maiden 100 off 44 balls — South Africa’s fastest ODI century and the second in the world — knocked 26 in a single over by Chamunorwa Chibhabha. He blasted 10 sixes as he sprayed Zimbabwe’s deliveries all over the field like confetti at a wedding to finish on 148 off 68 balls.


You could tell how desperate the situation was as the young Zimbabweans could only manage muted celebrations when they took wickets — five by the end of the innings.


With South Africa having pummelled their way to 418 — the fourth biggest ODI team total ever — the match had effectively ended as a contest.


Not that anyone expected Zimbabwe to beat South Africa. But a competitive outing was all the young tourists could realistically aim for in the tour finale after the hosts had already wrapped up the series by Monday in East London.


Yet it would be shameful for anyone to dish out opprobrium to innocent young boys who had to endure the barrage by South Africa on the field. Innocent in the sense that it’s not their fault to find themselves in the deep end.


If anything, it would have been a different anecdote had Zimbabwe batted first. Well, it’s only a big maybe.


Honestly it’s not by coincidence that the winning margin ended up being 171 runs when it could have been anything above 200 by Zimbabwe’s standards.


If Boucher’s assault with the bat was astounding, we must say Zimbabwe’s fight-back was remarkable.


Far from celebrating underachievement, Zimbabwe’s reply of 247 for the loss of only four wickets was something unexpected after the boys appeared to have been pulverised to pulp during South Africa’s innings.


Incidentally it was their highest total in the series.


Terry Duffin’s 88 was defiant and plausible, as was Hamilton Masakadza’s 55 and Chibhabha’s 46. Indeed it could have been a different story were the Zimbabweans as good as the South African batsmen who on the day all — except Jan van der Wath — managed their totals at over the run-a-ball rate.


But all that effort was in vain as the damage had already been done. It was a case of too little too late.


For now Zimbabwe’s only consolation is that even Australia, the best cricket country in all forms, conceded 438 runs at the hands of South Africa in Johannesburg in March. The South Africans were responding to another huge total, 434, in the epic tie.


Both South Africa and Zimbabwe have been using the ODI series as preparation for next month’s ICC Champions Trophy in India.


The biggest question is whether the just-ended series has left either in better shape for the India showdown.


For South Africa, they certainly would have preferred facing potent bowlers after they won the toss and chose to bat at Sedgars Park on Wednesday. But, in the final analysis, they might have been wondering if the young Zimbabweans offered them the opposition they would have wanted ahead of more daunting competition.


On the other hand the series outcome should be more worrying for Zimbabwe.


The whitewash, not that it was unexpected, has just quickly reminded us that Zimbabwe are nowhere near the competitive outfit they had hoped to be by the end of this year.


The defeat might as well have reduced Zimbabwe’s series victory over Bangladesh last month to a mere fluke. It’s probably confirmation that while Zimbabwe are still better than all the countries ranked below them, there is still a gulf in class between the country and the rest of the Test members.


Of course Zimbabwe can still fancy their chances of beating England — who have struggled badly in the limited-overs game.


For now, we pray the tour of South Africa has not left the young Zimbabweans emotionally distressed. At least the Zimbabweans now know what awaits them against top-notch opposition.


More worryingly though, the sobering lessons South Africa dished out were nothing the Zimbabweans didn’t know.


Kevin Curran knows full well that his boys need to learn to build an innings. He is aware too that Zimbabwe’s fielding has been all fingers and thumbs, while the bowling attack has often left a lot to be desired.


What we are not sure about is whether Curran — and indeed Zimbabwe Cricket — knows what Zimbabwe really needs. We know they do. It’s experienced players stupid!


With a dignified loss to West Indies followed by a thumping of Associate members Canada and Bermuda as well as last month’s victory over Bangladesh, it could have been tempting for Zimbabwe Cricket to forget about all the experienced players who left and concentrate on the promising talent.


But, with all due respect, the success might have been a little false. South Africa showed us that.


It’s disturbing that former captain Tatenda Taibu has set his sights on playing for South Africa instead of coming back home. There are many other experienced and promising players whose services Zimbabwe still needs and the cricketers as well still need Zimbabwe.


Think of Andy Blignaut, Heath Streak, Sean Ervine, Ray Price, Mark Vermeulen, Barney Rogers, Douglas Hondo, Tinashe Panyangara and Neil Ferreira, to name but a few.


We haven’t heard yet if Zimbabwe Cricket has closed its door to those cricketers willing to return. Remember the “our doors are always open” dictum?


While it’s incumbent upon the players themselves to make the first move — if they are really still interested in representing Zimbabwe — the union as well must make efforts to bring back some of the experienced players.


Both sides have made mistakes and we have no doubt they have realised that. What’s needed is reconciliation and compromise for nothing but the good of the game.


Otherwise the youngsters currently holding the fort should be perfecting their line and length, short selection, footwork and fielding skills on the domestic stage, not against top-notch opposition such as South Africa.


We hope Mr Chingoka realises that having a competitive team is more important than having a new constitution in place by January.


dmajonga@yahoo.com