Preview: Zim at World Twenty20

In sport, the casuals root for the underdog. A plucky challenger will always win over a neutral observer. In that case, Zimbabwe might have some good support at the World Twenty20 tournament in Sri Lanka, despite being more than 6,000 km from home. Favourites they certainly aren’t.

Prosper Utseya
Prosper Utseya

Zimbabwe’s recent performances, most notably their giant-killing defeat of a weakened South African outfit at Harare Sports Club, will give them hope but it’s a long way from Harare to Hambantota, where they play both of their group games, and they face an extremely tough challenge if they are to progress out of the Group Stage of the tournament.

The Zimbabweans have the hosts and South Africa, who recently ascended to the top of the ICC’s Twenty20 rankings and boast a formidable line-up, for company in Group C. They’ll have the honour of playing in the tournament opener, against Sri Lanka, and given the fervent support expected for the home side, there probably won’t be too much love for the underdog in Hambantota that day.

Zimbabwe have prospered, albeit briefly, at the World Twenty20 before, beating Australia at Newlands in the inaugural event five years ago. That win came in Zimbabwe’s second ever Twenty20 match, but since then they’ve built up an atrocious record in Twenty20 internationals, having not won an official match in over two years. That’s not to say they’ve continued to flounder helplessly. They’ve actually looked in decent nick recently, scoring 200 in a defeat against New Zealand at the beginning of the year and beating Bangladesh and South Africa (twice) in an unofficial tournament this winter.

It’s an oft repeated dictum that the game’s shortest format helps to narrow the gap between the best and the worst of international cricket, and there’s always an element of luck involved in a Twenty20 match.

“We know what we’re up against and to be honest we’re not too flustered about it,” captain Brendan Taylor said at a press conference upon the team’s arrival. “It’s going to be extremely tough but that’s why we’re here. We want to showcase our talent and skills and it’s great to be part of a good tournament. Hopefully we can have a so-called upset but we feel we’re good enough to go out there and win.”

Taylor’s efforts will be key to Zimbabwe’s success. He won’t be short of responsibility, leading the side while keeping wicket and batting up the order, but he’s a bellicose cricketer and should be equal to the task. He’s also the only Zimbabwean with recent experience of Sri Lankan conditions, having played for Uthura Rudras during the Sri Lankan Premier League.

A brittle middle order has been a Zimbabwean staple for years, and their soft underbelly will be the team’s biggest weakness. As such, much will depend upon openers Vusi Sibanda and Hamilton Masakadza. Masakadza, in particular, has been in magisterial form this year, scoring 267 runs at 66.75, including four half centuries, in the unofficial triangular Twenty20. He kicked off his tournament with a 27-ball 44 in the warm-up defeat to the Irish. If he and Sibanda prove adhesive at the top of the order, they have a chance.

The team will also rely heavily on the spin-bowling triumvirate of Ray Price, Prosper Utseya and Graeme Cremer. Cremer is the best legspinner of his generation, while former captain Utseya has made himself a fixture in the limited overs sides and Price, who missed Zimbabwe’s winter triumph at home due to injury, will want to make a mark in what will be his last global tournament.

“The most important thing is to attack as much as we can. Kyle Jarvis and Chris Mpofu have been bowling really well,” said Price. “It hasn’t been ideal but our preparations back home have been close to what we’ve wanted,” concluded Taylor. “We had a good six or eight weeks together, playing a lot of T20 matches and team-building so we feel prepared and we’re all ready to go. I think we’ve covered all the angles. We’ve all played enough cricket in the past so we’re all ready to go.”

Zimbabwe squad; Brendan Taylor (capt/wk), Hamilton Masakadza, Vusi Sibanda, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Craig Ervine, Malcolm Waller, Elton Chigumbura, Graeme Cremer, Ray Price, Prosper Utseya, Kyle Jarvis, Chris Mpofu, Brian Vitori, Richard Muzhange, Forster Mutizwa.

Non-travelling reserves: Regis Chakabva, Tendai Chatara, Shingirai Masakadza, Tinotenda Mutombodzi, Richmond Mutumbami

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