FOR all the off-field distractions that have besieged Zimbabwean cricket since the World Cup Qualifiers catastrophe, the national side’s current tour of South Africa has shifted some focus back onto the goings-on out on the park.
By Enock Muchinjo
It was not so long ago that a vast majority of fans could not care less what happened to the team, and the tour here by Pakistan and Australia in July — the first Zimbabwe assignment post-World Cup wreckage — represented new levels of disillusionment among the public.
Still feeling terribly betrayed by the failure to qualify for next year’s World Cup, thousands having witnessed in horror as the dream crumbled at the hands of the unlikeliest source — United Arab Emirates — fans stayed away when the Aussies and Pakistanis visited, only a handful bothering to watch.
That it was a makeshift Zimbabwe side that took to the park did not help matters at all, five senior players having resorted to industrial action over unpaid dues.
And now with a full squad available for the South Africa tour, en route to Bangladesh, Zimbabwe has had the opportunity to assess the progress, if any, that has been made since the team failed in its World Cup mission.
Against a Proteas side far from full-strength, Zimbabwe lost the ODI series 3-0 and are one nil down in the Twenty20s, although it is unfair to say they have not had their moments so far against their more illustrious neighbours.
A positive outlook for the future is the heartening performances of the younger and less experienced members of the squad, with the 21-year-old leg-spinner Brandon Mavuta immediately coming to mind.
Then you also have PJ Moor taking the attack to South Africa in that manner in the first T20 in East London, showing, perhaps, signs that the younger generation of this side is now prepared to form the core of Zimbabwe moving forward.
This, of course, puts pressure on quite a few senior players who over the season have not really shown either the temperament or will to carry the team on their shoulders.
Already there has been some question marks over the re-calling of Elton Chigumbura, a place that really ought to have gone to a much younger player, for the opportunity to learn, particularly so on a tour on which very little was expected of Zimbabwe result-wise.
Same applies to captain Hamilton Masakadza. Barring any unlikely heroics in the last two games in South Africa, as well as the Bangladesh trip, the sun should be setting on the international careers of these two, both great chaps on and off the field.
Masakadza has played international cricket for 17 years. That is a milestone of which he should be proud, and in all these years he has represented the country with pride and quiet dignity.
Many international cricketers who had the kind of starts Masakadza had saw their careers skyrocket onwards. You have to feel for the Zimbabwe skipper, who in all fairness is a victim of the myriad of problems that would later beset cricket in this country since that historic Test debut century in 2001.
Had he played alongside the seasoned “rebel” players for the next seven years or so, gradually and systematically fitting into a senior role, the world would certainly have seen a different Hamilton Masakadza.
Compare Masakadza with his opposing opening batsman in the recent ODI series, the 24-year-old Aiden Markram, who in just 12 Tests has already cracked four hundreds at an average of 47, 27.
Markram has obviously benefitted immensely from being around such men as Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and Dean Elgar.
This is what Zimbabwe should be looking to do. Players like Brendan Taylor, Sikandar Raza, as well as the special left-handed skills of Sean Williams and Craig Ervine —hopefully if they can have five more years of international cricket — should provide the leadership to the talented newcomers Tarisai Musakanda, Tinashe Kamunhukamwe, Ryan Murray, Ryan Burl and others.
Zimbabwe can take a leaf out of the leading nations in this aspect.
India have in recent times started using their Under-19 players. They know it has worked miracles for them before. It did not take the Indians a long time to blood in Virat Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja after the 2008 Under-19 World Cup.
New Zealand went the same way with Tim Southee, Corey Anderson and Trent Boult. They too will be quite chuffed by the bold step. Instead of recycling players, Zimbabwe must go this route in preparation for the 2023 World Cup.