I WAS itching to write this column after Zimbabwe bagged a series victory over Bangladesh following the second One-Day International (ODI) on Wednesday, which would have been their first series win in two years.
Notes of how much a series win would mean to Zimbabwe were already jotted in my notebook. But the home side romped to a six-wicket win on Wednesday to delicately level the series one-all.
The script and plot had to change. By the time you read this, the series would have been won 2-1 by either Bangladesh or Zimbabwe after the third and final match today.
Before heading to Bangladesh, Zimbabwe captain Prosper Utseya revealed his objectives as essentially to silence critics by qualifying for the final of the tri-series also involving Sri Lanka, and winning the three-match ODI series against Bangladesh.
Mission accomplished? Well, todayâ€™s result in Mirpur will determine that, but at the time of writing (Wednesday) I gave Zimbabwe a 50% success rate in terms of objectives set; 50 % because of three key factors.
Firstly, they did not reach the final.
But having beaten Bangladesh by 38 runs in the first match of the tri-series, and bowling commendably well to restrict Sri Lanka to 210/6 in 50 overs in the second (never mind the batting collapse and resultant 80 all out), and also considering that Bangladesh stunned Sri Lanka to qualify for the final ahead of Zimbabwe courtesy of a better net-run rate, Utseya cannot realistically be too disappointed.
Secondly, having beaten Bangladesh in the first match, victory over Sri Lanka in the second match would have showed that they can also grind out results against the top sides. â€œIts only Bangladesh,â€ the teamâ€™s critics would say.
But having put up a disciplined bowling and fielding performance against Sri Lanka only to be terribly let down by the batters, Utseya can nonetheless claim a 50% success from the tri-series.
The third factor is that, regardless of todayâ€™s decisive match, the Kenya test awaits Zimbabwe next week. The two African sides will meet in five ODIs starting Tuesday.
It is a tour of no less significance. Kenya have a point to prove against sides like Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, and they will seize the opportunity in the forthcoming series.
On the other hand, in the event that Zimbabwe have taken the series today, they will need to further pull away from the lesser ODI sides, and that means beating Kenya convincingly. And what would that mean on the bigger picture?
It will lift them above Bangladesh and Kenya not necessarily in terms of ranking but public perception. That however does not necessarily mean that they would be at the same level with the top sides â€” a factor proved by their failure to beat Sri Lanka in six ODIs in the last three months.
What such an outcome might suggest is that Zimbabwe can, at least, compete with teams like New Zealand and the West Indies, which is not quite a bad thing because these are the sorts of sides they will be measured against if they regain Test status later this year as targeted by the board.
However, Zimbabwe must be careful not to push it. Too much must not be enslaved in something so far in the distance. In trying to avoid losing the future, they must guard against losing the present. If you take care of the next match then the future should take care of itself.
Let’s make close analysis of the team. Does Zimbabwe have the material to move to another level, or at least, to win convincingly in Kenya? Regardless of the result today against Bangladesh, they return to Kenya a more confident lot than the side that lost there by 95 runs in October.
Although Zimbabwe have relied on team effort more than individual match-winning ability in their recent assignments, it is good to see that they do not rely on one match-winner.
Pace bowlers Ed Rainsford and Tawanda Mupariwa, and spinners Ray Price and Prosper Utseya can send down useful overs. Then batsmen Hamilton Masakadza, Elton Chigumbura, Tatenda Taibu (when in form) and Sean Williams can lift the team on their day.
Rainsford in particular has found a new lease of life after a difficult phase in his career. His new ball partner Tawanda Mupariwa has been bowling as tidily and as accurately as ever. Spinners Utseya and Price are outstanding in support.
In Rainsford, Mupariwa, Utseya and Price, Zimbabwe has four very good bowlers. Not top-class bowlers, but four guys who can consistently ask questions with swing, accuracy, change of pace, flight and turn.
It could be better with Chris Mpofu in the picture. He remains an important player in the side.
With Rainsford and Mupariwaâ€™s lack of genuine pace, they can both have far greater efficiency when playing a supporting role to the quicker Mpofu â€” one sharing the new ball with him and the other as change bowler.
The batters must now come to the party. The potential is abundantly there. That is undoubted. If all departments perform, Zimbabwe can have a really balanced side as they continue on their reinstallation path.
IndependentSport View with Enock Muchinjo