Zimbabwe are perhaps, along with Afghanistan, everyone's second favourite team. From their high point in the mid 1990s where they threatened to join the big eight in international cricket, to the low point in the mid 2000s and their subsequent withdrawal from Test cricket, Zimbabwe have endured more intense highs and lows than just about any other sporting team.
They are, only now, just beginning to rebuild after the political shenanigans that wrecked much of the last decade and have welcomed back several previously shunned players into the coaching arena, begun a new domestic system built around five franchise sides and now have a team that better reflects the demographic of their country.
They are currently led by Brendan Taylor, who appears aware of, and able to shoulder, the immense responsibility that comes with leading a young team, and their team ethic and togetherness appears better than at any point in their history. Taylor has formed an apparently good relationship with head coach Alan Butcher and has dedicated Zimbabwe's performance in the competition to the memory of Butcher's father, who recently lost his battle against prostate cancer.
Their squad for the World Twenty20 is relatively settled – 10 of the players selected have featured in at least five of Zimbabwe’s seven T20 matches this year – and has been at a training camp in Bulawayo ahead of their departure. Speaking after the camp, Taylor was bullish about his team’s chances in the tournament, saying, "We are well aware of the task ahead, but here are the facts: we have beaten both teams (in our group) in the past and why should this be different?
"Also this format is one of the most unpredictable forms of the game so you can rule out form, expe¬rience and other issues. It goes down to who performs in all three departments - bowling, batting and fielding - best and we, like all the other nations, have put in the work and it’s time to reap the rewards."
"Honestly, I don’t believe coining Zimbabwe underdogs is a fair and justifiable point. We have put in the work, gotten some good results in, and this tourna¬ment could be the final piece of the puzzle. We know we hold the hopes and aspirations of an eager nation and, given we have put in the work, results should start coming, starting with this World Cup."
Taylor himself is likely to slot in at number three in Sri Lanka behind Hamilton Masakadza and Vusi Sibanda and is expected to keep wicket. Their middle-order will include the likes of Stuart Matsikenyeri and Craig Ervine, while their pace attack will be led by Kyle Jarvis and Chris Mpofu. Spin is arguably their biggest asset, with an attack led by the experienced Ray Price, who will be hoping for one last international cricket hurrah, and including accurate off-spinner Prosper Utseya and leg-spinner Graeme Cremer.
Zimbabwe’s group is undoubtedly a tough one, although they will be buoyed by their victory earlier this year in a triangular series against, what was admittedly, a second-string South Africa, but nevertheless included a sprinkling of first choice players; and will be aware that Sri Lanka’s batting depends heavily on a couple of senior players. One good performance is all it takes in this short competition, and, while it is perhaps unlikely, don’t rule out an appearance in the super eights.
Brendan Taylor not only leads the side, but alongside Hamilton Masakadza, also the batting. The pair both hit half-centuries in the final of the aforementioned triangular series against South Africa to take their team to a nine-wicket victory, and, between them, have scored more than half of Zimbabwe’s runs in Twenty20 matches this year. Taylor’s excellent form was enough to earn him a stint in the recently completed Sri Lanka Premier League, where, despite performing badly, he believes that he learnt valuable lessons about the nature of the pitches in the forthcoming event.
One To Watch:
Death bowling has long been one of Zimbabwe’s Achilles’ heels, but Richard Muzhange has shown signs of turning that situation around. He became involved with the Mid West Rhinos at the end of 2010 and, under the tutelage of their then-coach Jason Gillespie, mastered the inswinging yorker. His T20 stats are not impressive at present – nine wickets from 11 matches – but he is clearly valued highly by the Zimbabwe hierarchy.
2012 T20 Form: WLLWWLL
11th February: lost to New Zealand by 7 wickets at Eden Park
14th February: lost to New Zealand by 5 wickets at Hamilton
17th June: beat Bangladesh by 11 runs in Harare*
20th June: beat South Africa by 29 runs in Harare*
21st June: lost to Bangladesh by 6 wickets in Harare*
23rd June: lost to South Africa by 6 wickets in Harare*
24th June: beat South Africa by 9 wickets in Harare*
*were not given T20 International status
Previous Tournament Performances
2007: Didn’t progress from group B despite beating Australia, lost to England
2009: Didn’t play due to political relations between them and hosts England
2010: Didn’t progress from group B, lost to New Zealand and Sri Lanka
18th September: v Sri Lanka in Hambantota
20th September: v South Africa in Hambantota
Batsmen: Brendan Taylor (captain, RHB/OB/WK), Craig Ervine (LHB), Hamilton Masakadza (RHB/RM), Stuart Matsikenyeri (RHB/OB), Forster Mutizwa (RHB/OB/WK), Vusi Sibanda (RHB), Malcolm Waller (RHB/OB).
All-rounders: Elton Chigumbura (RHB/RMF), Graeme Cremer (RHB/LBG).
Bowlers: Kyle Jarvis (RHB,RFM), Chris Mpofu (RHB/RFM), Richard Muzhange (RHB/RMF), Ray Price (RHB/SLA), Prosper Utseya (RHB/OB), Brian Vitori (LHB/LFM).
© Cricket World 2012
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