Cause for optimism ahead of World Cup

While Zimbabwe cricket fans will be compelled to drag themselves out of bed at ungodly hours to watch the ICC 2015 World Cup finals co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia, there are many reasons for optimism among local cricket die-hards.

Kevin Mapasure

Zimbabwe will seek to banish the disappointment of losing to Afghanistan and Hong Kong before their nightmarish trip to Bangladesh where they were whitewashed in Test and ODI matches.

But their win against Sri Lanka in a warm up match this week could provide a tantalising insight into the sort of shocks Zimbabwe is priming to pull at this glittering global showpiece.

The win against Sri Lanka gave the team the impetus it needed and crucial belief after a wretched summer season.

Unlike other World Cup tournaments where the team was sent packing even before they had finished unpacking, this time each team has six matches to showcase its talent and will stay at least a full month in Australia and New Zealand.

With two associate members in their Group in Ireland and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), anything less than two wins would not be tolerated by local cricket faithfuls.

Zimbabwe has a reputation of causing major upsets at the World Cup, although they have not managed one in the last three tournaments, but there is a buzz among cricket fans that Zimbabwe will provide a throwback with another earth-shaker in this edition.

The tenure of World Cup-winning coach Dave Whatmore provides yet more reasons for optimism for the country.

All-rounder Sean Williams said while they want to make sure they take full points from associate sides Ireland and the UAE, they have identified two teams they think they can surprise.

In 1983 Zimbabwe recorded a jaw dropping 13-run win over mighty Australia; despite parading a decent team with Andy Pycroft, Dave Houghton and Duncan Fletcher among others, nobody expected the result.

Ten years later they stunned fans again when they defeated England. In 1999 they produced a stunning performance against South Africa which propelled them to the Super Six stage, having also beaten India.

This time they need another big result against India, the West Indies, South Africa or Pakistan, but they must also win their matches against Ireland and the UAE for any upset to carry the full weight.

Only last year Zimbabwe shocked Australia at the Harare Sports Club, a good reason for optimism ahead of the global showcase.

Hope is that Zimbabwe can thrive on bouncy and quick tracks in New Zealand and Australia with both bat and ball.

Zimbabwe can refer to their Test-winning heroics against Pakistan in Harare last year; they can also refer to their ODI victory against the same team in addition to having beaten India before.

Whatmore is aiming for quarter-final qualification, but knows his team will have to wring every last drop of ability and talent they have to achieve that feat.

Clearly Ireland is desperate to show the World that they deserve the right to break into the big boys’ club of Test-playing nations and there is no better stage to prove their worth. They would thus be looking to beat Zimbabwe and the UAE.

But even the UAE have set themselves a target of two victories, against Zimbabwe and Ireland.

Failure by Zimbabwe to win against both UAE and Ireland will bear catastrophic consequences as questions about their Test status will start to nag again.

Middle order batsman Brendon Taylor has returned to form after a tough period on the sub-continent and matches preceding that.
His half century against Sri Lanka must have done his confidence the world of good, while Hamilton Masakadza has continued on his purple patch after hitting a run-a -ball ton against the same team in the team’s final warm up match.

The bowlers have been hitting the right areas and their performance against New Zealand in the washed out warm up is a point of reference.

Everything is set for Zimbabwe to put its doubters to shame and reclaim lost glamour and pride.