Indepenent Sport View:How tri-series was a success for Zimbabwe

A FRIEND close to the Zimbabwe cricket team told me that before the opening tri-nation series match between Zimbabwe and India, coach Alan Butcher removed pressure off his players by deliberately undermining the significance of the match.

“Just go out there and enjoy, guys, there is no pressure at all. This is a game like any other,” Butcher told the players.

They went into the match, pressure off their shoulders. Out of the enjoyment came a workmanlike six-wicket win that set the tone for a remarkable tournament for Zimbabwe.

What came out of the match, and indeed the series, was the over-stressed fact that the players have the ability, but the nerve to deliver in pressure situations often deserts them.

In terms of talent and ability to play cricket, there is nothing wrong with the team.
Yes, the nine-wicket loss to Sri Lanka in the final was disappointing, but the team had already achieved something by beating India (twice) and the Sri Lankans convincingly in the preliminary matches.
Besides, once Sri Lanka won the toss and elected to field on Wednesday, they were odds on favourites to lift the Micromax Cup in conditions which overwhelmingly favoured teams chasing down targets.

Zimbabwe can look back at their three wins in the tournament and draw huge amounts of satisfaction.
It was not just the results, but the manner with which it was executed that at long last made Zimbabwe look like a decent international side.

Failing to finish off has been one of this team’s greatest weaknesses, but this time they got into winning positions and stayed there until the end.

They did not collapse in the middle. In fact they chased down totals with real gusto, a very refreshing development indeed for the team and its loyal supporters.

The other big victory from the series was the mature performance of the leading players.
Readers of this column may well be aware of my criticism of players like Hamilton Masakadza and Brendan Taylor for their failure to transform themselves into the bedrock of the team that they should be.

In this series, both players turned on the style and became match-winners, not against Kenya or Bangladesh, but against very good second-string Indian and Sri Lankan sides.
The other good sight was Elton Chigumbura settling into captaincy with uplifting confidence and an ever-present, assuring smile.

I previously expressed reservations over Elton’s appointment, arguing as I did that the added responsibility would affect his personal game.

Fortunately, that was not the case, albeit for the simple reason that he didn’t have much pressure when batting because the top order did its job quite clinically. There was no middle order collapse to force the captain into desperate measures.

And after he got bashed in the first match against India, Chigumbura kept himself out of the bowling attack most of the time.

That said, Chigumbura showed glimpses of good leadership on the field. He rotated his bowlers brilliantly, and his bowling changes yielded results.

Persuading coach Butcher to go with Andy Blignaut instead of Chris Mpofu in the second India win was a masterstroke and he will savour that in his early days of captaincy.

 

By Enoch Muchinjo

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