Sending the right message across

Enock Muchinjo

GREETINGS from a warm, sunny and bright Harare Sports Club— from where I have filed this week’s piece.I have handed in the column an hour or so after the lunch break, with Zimbabwe teetering on the brink of defeat to Sri Lanka in the first of two Tests.

From where I sit in the Press box, down to the few hundred fans in the stands, to the team’s technical area—mixed feelings hover around reflectively over the hosts’ performance in this Test.

The all-too-familiar feeling of what might have been is engulfing onlookers in the Zimbabwean camp as the Test fast approaches the closing stages. As Sri Lanka surge towards a big win in what had otherwise been an evenly-fought contest, it stimulates among the Zimbabwe fans the wistful reflectiveness of “what might have been” had Sean Williams’ team not been some 70 to 80 runs short in their first innings after being given such a solid start by the top order.

Surrendered a strong position they did chiefly due to soft dismissals and poor decisions at crucial moments, you could quite rightly say, though, that the atmosphere has not been of the normal dejection that often surrounds the Zimbabwe team at this stage of a game against some of the world’s top Test sides.

That Zimbabwe is playing in only its first Test match in over a year is one of the factors offering a morsel of consolation. Feeling somewhat vindicated will be the new national selection panel, particularly convenor David Mutendera, the former Zimbabwe fast bowler. The tide of stinging criticism that greeted the panel after the very first squad it has chosen was a baptism of fire for Mutendera and company.

The job of selector calls for boldness, a little imaginative selections here and there. The new panel has given hint that it is not afraid to reward form, consistency and genuine promise.

To start with, the retirement of opener Hamilton Masakadza last year meant there was now a vacancy at the top of Zimbabwe’s batting order.Not only that. Masakadza’s partner in Zimbabwe’s last Test series at the end of 2018, Brian Chari—who was in the runs on that Bangladesh tour with 53 and 43 in the second and final Test—has not been enjoying the best form of his career in first-class cricket of late.

So, with Sri Lanka arriving in Harare last week for these two Tests, who should have been next in line to the opening slot for Zimbabwe to partner the in-form Prince Masvaure?

PJ Moor? With a Test average of 35.53, the right-hander was many people’s favourite to perhaps move to the top as a makeshift Test opener alongside Masvaure.
And sure, with Regis Chakabva appearing shoo-in to the wicketkeeper-batsman slot and then places in the middle-order taken up by men like captain Sean Williams, Sikandar Raza, Chakabva himself and the bowling all-rounder Donald Tiripano—it seemed sensible that somebody like Moor, with his experience in Tests, should be given the nod.

The roar of public disapproval that then greeted his omission from the squad was to be expected. The selectors, though, deserve some credit here for thinking outside the box, resisting the temptation of accommodative selection.

Experience is vital, but there is something we need to get accustomed to in this country whenever a vacancy arises in the national team line-up: to try and go for the natural choice in the vacant position, the player in form, and the player with the records to back himself up.

Kevin Kasuza had all this and, at long last, after nine years of consistent performances in first-cricket cricket—adding in current form—it became increasingly hard to ignore the Mutare-born opening batsman, all the more so with a vacancy in his natural role there for the taking.

Pity, after his 63 runs in the first innings—a composed knock on debut that should not surprise a lot of us because of the player’s strong foundation beforehand—Kasuza was not able to bat in the second innings after suffering a concussion.

Rewarding consistency and making the tough call on players is something selectors should not be scared of doing, as happened with the 26-year-old Kasuza.

The same can be said of one of the other three debutants, pace bowler Victor Nyauchi, who has been a consistent performer in domestic cricket over the last few seasons.

Nyauchi would not even have made his debut had Tendai Chatara not failed to recover from injury before the series. But the 27-year-old toiled hard on a lifeless surface, getting his line and length right to bother the Sri Lanka batsmen throughout his spells. He emerged with figures of 3-69, bowling in the first innings.

The selectors must be applauded for doing this. It sends the right message, that while reputation will always be recognised in any team selection—form, discipline, perseverance and consistency will also be rewarded.

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