FOLLOWING the 4-1 series defeat to Bangladesh, Zimbabwe cricket coach Walter Chawaguta and captain Prosper Utseya came out for some criticism over their leadership style and technical aptitude.
Chawaguta put up impressive defences in press conferences each time his coaching was brought into question, suggesting how good an all-round coach he would be if his articulation was backed by a sound technical awareness.
His refusal to blame the bowlers was particularly surprising given that his frontline bowlers lacked firepower and penetration, to a great extent being responsible for the flying starts Bangladesh enjoyed in the series.
Chawaguta cited the good batting conditions at Queens Sports Club for the Tigersâ€™ batting dominance rather than the lack of rhythm in his bowlers.
At this point it was put to him that wayward line and length is no excuse in any condition. He was also reminded that Bangladeshâ€™s bowlers got their basics right by consistently putting the ball in the right areas and getting crucial breakthroughs.
His response was that there was nothing special about the Bangladesh bowlers, attributing their success to extra effort in the field and poor shot selection by the Zimbabwe batsmen.
That is not debatable. The batsmen played across the line too often in the top order, sometimes offering no shots at all which is suicidal cricket. But it raises more questions how the 36-year-old coach failed to find fault in his bowlers at the same time being critical of a batting line-up that clearly has improved, reaching the 300 mark twice and producing two centurions; one being Charles Coventryâ€™s 194 not out, a record equalling highest ODI score in history.
â€œWe are losing wickets,â€ Chawaguta said after the final match. â€œWe canâ€™t get momentum going. There are too many soft wickets at the top. Itâ€™s hard to build on that. We are not being tough enough. We need to find partnerships at the top. You canâ€™t have the number three coming to face the new ball.â€
The closest he came to fault the bowlers was: â€œWe have to work harder for our wickets.â€
Chawagutaâ€™s assistant is Douglas Hondo, who is bowling trainer. Hondo, a pace bowler of modest talent with 59 ODI caps under his belt and still only 30, really should be competing with the likes of Tawanda Mupariwa and Eddie Rainsford for a place in the team and not trying to coach them.
With contracts said to be ending at the end of this month, it is something Zimbabwe Cricket can look at.
Captain Utseya, like his coach, also faced some tough questions.
â€œWe could have done a lot better, we let ourselves down,â€ Utseya said.
â€œThe only difference between us and Bangladesh was that they were smarter. The guys in form took them through. Iâ€™m not picking on Chopper (Coventry), but scoring 194 and then getting out for a duck next game is not consistent. Hamilton (Masakadza) also slowed down after scoring a century in the third match.
There has to be balance. We need that consistency.â€
But the offspinner also cited inconsistency in the composition of the team as a major letâ€“down.
â€œWe are having new players every series. Mark (Vermeulen) and Chopper were returning to the team after a few years on the sidelines, while BT (Brendan Taylor) had not played for the team for a while. We are trying to build combinations. It takes time. The longer we stay together as a unit without losing players the better we will become.â€
Zimbabwe lost this series not because of lack of potential and talent. It was a series they could have simply won had they corrected the above-mentioned technical flows.
The new competition for places is encouraging. Mark Vermeulen came back and hit 92 on his first match, although it turned out to be an innings of little significance. Then of course there was Coventryâ€™s landmark innings. With more players expected to return, the competition can only get stiffer.
But at the same time, selection is a potential problematic area which must be handled with care.
One of the early cracks was the inclusion of Malcolm Waller, a player picked primarily for his batting, only to bat as low as number 8. His place could have gone to an extra bowler to boost the attack.
Due to the absence of this extra man, part-timers like Masakadza and Waller were given the ball, and needless to say, got the stick too.