IT is clear that the Zimbabwe cricket team is on the mend, but on Wednesday they went too far ahead of themselves and were accordingly brought down to earth by the West Indies in a 141-run defeat.
Not so fast, bredren — the Windies must have said.
Prosper Utseya’s decision to send in the home side in St Vincent after winning the toss was too ambitious and akin to abandoning a winning formula.
You would have thought that the Zimbabwe captain had something up his sleeve, but he failed to strike a balance between an attacking field and a defensive field.
Zimbabwe won the Twenty20 international and first ODI last week having batted first.
The two wins were chiefly engineered by the spinners who utilised the slow conditions in Trinidad and Guyana to strangle the West Indian batsmen who, clearly frustrated that the ball was not coming onto to the bat, succumbed to the variation of the slow men and the pressure of chasing down a target.
West Indies did win the second ODI by four wickets batting second, but the chase was wobbly in the mid-innings, and Zimbabwe were in it for most of the match.
After winning three successive matches on tour including a warm-up, a fourth-match dignified defeat in a game they could have so easily won had they added 15 more runs to their total earlier still left Zimbabwe’s pride intact.
So Utseya would not have failed to see — after winning the first two of the competitive matches and coming very close in the third — that his team’s strength lies in defending a total by exerting pressure with their prolonged spin attack.
Utseya took an unnecessary gamble. It’s hard to remember when this group of players last won a game while chasing down a total against a team that is not Bangladesh or Kenya.
It all boils down to mental strength. There is inability to hold nerve in pressure situations when wickets need to be preserved and the chase kept alive at the same time.
That is Zimbabwe’s Achilles Heel, keeping things together. The talent is there, but the mind contributes a large percentage of success in cricket. As long as the mental state is not right, they will not string a decent run together.
Credit to the West Indies bowlers; Darren Sammy bowled with admirable consistency to claim a career best 4-26. Kemar Roach executed the potential which manifested on the tour of Australia, bowling at full pace and length and generating good bounce on an otherwise non-receptive pitch.
After losing the first ODI, West Indies captain Chris Gayle warned his teammates of the possibility of a humiliating 5-0 whitewash by Zimbabwe. While this could be seen as a motivational line for his team by the big man, one could detect genuine apprehension in Gayle.
It seems the opposition rates the Zimbabwe team higher than the tourists rate themselves.