WITH Dale Steyn back and Kagiso Rabada at the peak of his powers, Zimbabwe could find themselves playing to survive against South Africa as the One-Day Internatioal series between the two neighbours begins on Sunday in Kimberly.
By Enock Muchinjo
Proteas coach Ottis Gibson this week spoke of his excitement at the prospect of the two speed demons firing together in the series as the hosts look to find some rhythm ahead of next year’s World Cup.
And with Lungi Ndidi providing the option for a three-pronged pace attack for the Proteas, Zimbabwe’s woes against genuine fast bowling could be compounded down south.
The conditions in Kimberly as well as the venue of the second match, Bloemfontein, might be slightly similar to what Zimbabwe is used to.
But that the Bloemfontein game as well as the third and final ODI in Paarl are day-night contests gives an extra challenge to Zimbabwe’s players, who are not used to playing under lights. You only need to think back to that lone day-night Test between the two sides last December — where Zimbabwe were crushed by an innings and 120 runs inside two days.
On the bowling front, it will be interesting to see if Kyle Jarvis can re-emerge as a reliable pace spearhead for Zimbabwe, and whether Tendai Chatara can fulfil his early promise as a bowler capable of posing real threat to a world-class batting line-up.
The loss of fast bowling prodigy Blessing Muzarabani to county cricket and leg-spinner Graeme Cremer to injury is a huge blow for Zimbabwe who, despite having some good talent in their touring party, do not have the bowling attack to cause the Proteas too much trouble.
Certainly, this is the kind of series in which South Africa needs to play horribly to lose a game, or Zimbabwe to play the game of their lives to salvage something from this tough assignment.
From a coaching perspective, it poses a tactical and mental challenge to go into a series in which you have been totally written off.
How do you approach the game and what do you tell your players to do?
Lalchand Rajput, in his first series as Zimbabwe’s substantive coach, will most likely look to set specific, measurable and attainable targets for the team to achieve — away from the results.
The targets could also be set at different phases of the game, or on a game-by-game basis.
Results aside, it will be a big shame for Zimbabwe to come out of both the ODI and Twenty20 series without achieving any of the set objectives.
Occupying the crease will definitely be one of those objectives and the return of talisman Brendan Taylor alongside Sean Williams and Craig Ervine is a welcome development for Zimbabwe.
All-rounder Elton Chigumbura is also trying to re-establish himself in the team after returning to the fold for the visits by Australia and Pakistan here three months ago, having previously fallen out of favour. Him and captain Hamilton Masakadza — with far more caps than the bulk of the Proteas side — have probably one of their last opportunities to prove their worth to the Zimbabwe side.
The toss will be crucial and in the case of Zimbabwe winning it, they will most likely bowl first.
This way they will at least be assured of a longer match and more time in the middle so that they can be in prime shape for the succeeding tour to Bangladesh.