THE Zimbabwe national cricket team has embarked on an intensive batting training programme ahead of the International Cricket Council World Cup to be co-hosted by India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh next month after poor showing in recent tours.
Zimbabwe’s batting emerged as a huge worry factor in their five-match One-Day-International series played in Bangladesh last month where Elton Chigumbura’s men lost 3-1, and the whitewash in the ODI and Twenty 20 series South Africa.
With the conditions in the sub-continent favouring spin, Zimbabwe looks to have a potent attack in the twin threat of Prosper Utseya and Raymond Price.
In an interview with Independent Sport national team assistant coach Steven Mangongo said that they had set out an intensive training programme for the batsmen after a meek showing in the Bangladesh series.
“We have come up with an intensive training structure so that we can try and help the guys improve their technique going into the World Cup,” said Mangongo. “The Bangladesh series served as an eye-opener because we observed some worrying frailties in our batting department.
“We want them to improve so that there is a bit more stability especially during the first 15 overs of an innings. We are currently working with the batsmen together with batting coach Grant Flower and we will be joined by the national coach Alan Butcher and we also expect to get some help from Brian Lara at some point later.”
Zimbabwe’s top order batsmen struggled for form in Bangladesh where none managed a half century in the four matches they played.
Opener and vice-captain Hamilton Masakadza is the highest profile victim of the tour as he failed to make the cut for the provisional 30-man squad for the World Cup.
The squad has since been trimmed to 20 with a further five facing the chop when the final squad is announced next week.
So far Brendan Taylor, Chamunorwa Chibhabha and Regis Chakabva are survivors from the players that inter-changed at the top of the batting order in Bangladesh.
Taylor scored, zero, 15, 28 and 27 in the four innings while Masakadza failed to get any double figures. On the other hand Chakabva showed some potential when he scored 45 batting at number three in the first ODI, helping Zimbabwe draw first blood.
The middle order batsmen had a better showing with Craig Ervine the shining light in the otherwise morale-shattering series defeat.
After that series the selectors did not hesitate to sharpen the knives and butcher the failing squad.
Now with five players set to be chopped, a number of the players are sweating on their places in the squad.
Despite needing some runs himself, captain Chigumbura is certain for a ticket to the sub-continent, but the same cannot be said for Chibhabha who faces competition from the occasionally dangerous Vusi Sibanda and Terry Duffin to a lesser extent.
Former captain Tatenda Taibu, Craig and Sean Ervine, Taylor, spinners Prosper Utseya, Raymond Price and Graeme Cremer are all certain to make it into the final squad.
After being left out of the Bangladesh tour, Charles Coventry looks set to make the team as Masakadza’s replacement.
His teammate at Matabeleland Tuskers, Sean Williams’ occasional spin is likely to get him in the squad.
Mangongo revealed that the squad would be biased towards spin and the remaining spinners in the squad are likely to make it while the batsmen who play spin better are more likely to win places.
Zimbabwe open their World Cup campaign against Australia on February 21 before they face Canada on February 28.
Zimbabwe will look to win their two matches against associate members Canada and Kenya and hope for an upset against New Zealand or Pakistan to make it into the Super Eight. Zimbabwe’s group also includes Kenya who are famous for their World Cup exploits in 2003 where they went all the way to the semi-final, beating Sri Lanka, Bangladesh New Zealand and Zimbabwe on their way.