Blowing hot and cold in the Caribbean

INCONSISTENCY is the name of the new cancer that has attacked the Zimbabwe cricket team so much that it may take a new generation of players to cure the disease.

Four to five years ago, after a new crop of players replaced the “rebels”, who had left en masse, young age and inexperience was the ready excuse for the team’s apologists.

Now the tune has changed. With certain players in this Zimbabwe team having played over 100 ODIs, a great deal of caps compared to some players who are already world-beaters in most of the international sides, only a spin doctor with the gift to twist words as sharp as Graeme Cremer can turn the ball at Providence Stadium will still talk of inexperience.

They came to the West Indies for the 2010 edition of the ICC World Twenty20 and let themselves down where it mattered most.

Having beaten giants Pakistan and Australia in warm-up matches ahead of the main competition, the meek performances by the Zimbabweans in their Group B defeats to Sri Lanka and New Zealand on Monday and Tuesday respectively hugely disappointed their sympathisers here, and they always have many in the Caribbean.

Both matches were lost after the Duckworth Lewis was applied due to persistent rains in Guyana, but then on both occasions the writing was already on the wall.

Guyana, the only English-speaking South American country which falls under the West Indies banner in cricket due to its British colonisation history, has a wet climate throughout the year which also resulted in the no-result outcome in the elimination match between England and Ireland.

With England on the ropes in the match, they however sailed through to the Super Eight on a technicality at the expense of the Irish, raising question marks over the use of the Duckworth Lewis calculations in Twenty20 cricket.

But with Zimbabwe it was a different case, and captain Prosper Utseya was not in a mood of using this as an excuse.

“The thing is everyone uses it (the Duckworth Lewis),” he told journalists after the New Zealand seven-run loss. “It doesn’t matter if you like it or don’t. Both teams are affected at the end of the day, so it’s fair.”

Utseya was further asked if he was disappointed not to grab the opportunity at such a big stage as the T20 World Cup to show to the world that the team was moving along with the positive political and economic changes in the country, hence deserving a place among the big boys, to which he replied: “Obviously after not making the Super Eight everyone is disappointed. We didn’t show that we were the better side. We have to accept that and learn from our mistakes.”

While inexperience can be curbed by playing more often, thus gaining experience, inconsistency is a different facet altogether because it’s about the mind.

The Zimbabwean players can play so well and even win a warm-up or two against the top teams, but under the weight of pressure in a competitive match, their nerves deceive them.

Heath Streak, the Zimbabwe team’s bowling coach known for his fearless approach during his playing days, has always spoken passionately about fixing the players’ psyche.

“In professional sports there is a strong mental aspect,” Streak told IndependentSport following Tuesday’s defeat. “It’s not just the preparations, it’s also about being able to get through tough situations.”

Streak is an imposing figure in the Zimbabwe changing room, both in physique and repute. Does he ever get frustrated with the players and lose his temper at times?

“I am the bowling coach so it’s difficult to be like that,” he replied. “But as an ex-player and captain, I like to give advice, and you have to be honest and a little brutal sometimes, as long as it’s constructive. You need to commend people when they do well, and be honest when they don’t.”

Zimbabwe’s spin bowlers once again dug deep into their bag of skills on this tour, but naturally, Streak’s main worry is the pace bowling attack, which for a long time has not been able to threaten the opposition in different conditions.

“We still need to add a lot of depth to our team,” he said. “In spin we’ve got a world-class department that can compete with any attack.

“Look, we’ve got guys who have good potential on the pace side. Chris Mpofu has developed well. He has extra depth and aggression now. We also have Shingi Masakadza back home. Elton (Chigumbura) as well. Then we also have younger guys like (Taurai) Muzarabani and (Kyle) Jarvis who we need to get physically stronger so that they can bowl at a higher level.”

Zimbabwe were the first team to arrive in the Caribbean, where they played a four-day warm-up against West Indies A, as part of their roadmap to resume Test commitments early next year.

Asked what he sees as Zimbabwe’s strongest point when they return to Tests, he said: “Look, I think it’s the young and energetic aspect. The fact that we have young guys who want to learn is important. Our spin department will be a big aspect in Test cricket where you need to take 20 wickets.”

The T20 World Cup was the first assignment for Englishman Alan Butcher as Zimbabwe coach. Given the unpredictable nature of Twenty20, Butcher pointed out before the tournament that any outcome would not necessarily reflect the team’s progress under him.

This leaves the tri-series involving India and Sri Lanka at the end of this month to give him a good shot at a conventional form of the game and in familiar home conditions.

 

Enock Muchinjo in Georgetown, Guyana

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