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Zim cricket in Proteas test

The Zimbabwe national cricket has struggled over the last few years. Picture: REUTERS

The Zimbabwe national cricket has struggled over the last few years. Picture: REUTERS

THE world’s number one Test cricket team, the Proteas are in town for a one off Test match and three One Day Internationals(ODIs) but the big question on the lips of local cricket fans is: Will the Zimbabwe national side be able to knock off the gritty South Africans? Zimbabwe will strive hard to beat South Africa when the two teams meet in their one off Test showdown that runs at Harare Sports Club starting on August 9, an outcome which is highly unlikely given that the national cricket team has struggled for form in recent matches.

The national side failed to progress to the next stage of the International Cricket Council World Twenty20 competition in March and recently lost two ODIs and a four-day match to touring associate side, Afghanistan, a development which has left Zimbabwe cricket at an all time low. The tour by the Proteas will give Stephen Mangongo, his first official assignment as Zimbabwe national team coach and this will give the national team an opportunity to redeem themselves.

Mangongo is optimistic Zimbabwe will put up a good show. “We are worried about the lack of game time. But I am confident we will be able to produce a good result under the circumstances,” said Mangongo. South Africa needs nothing short of victory to stay top of the Test rankings. A draw or a defeat will see the Proteas surrender their top ranking to Australia who can reclaim the top place if they beat Pakistan in a two-Test series in the United Arab Emirates in October.

Australia who are joining Zimbabwe and South Africa later this month for a Triangular ODI series are in second position on 123 points, just one point behind the South Africans. It is on that premise that South Africa have brought almost the same team that beat Sri Lanka, a result that knocked Australia off their perch as the number one ranked Test nation. The squad which will be captained by Hashim Amla and deputised by the world’s leading batsman AB De Villiers also includes the globe’s leading test bowler Dale Steyn.

Zimbabwe’s ninth ranking will not change regardless of the outcome of the Test, but should the side defeat South Africa, they will gain 10 rating points and close the gap on eighth-ranked West Indies to only 20 points. At the moment, the West Indies have 70 rating points while Zimbabwe has 40, just above Bangladesh who are on 21 points.

That should set the stage for a potentially exciting show but the question is: Does Zimbabwe have the overall strength and team spirit to compete against a side that also boasts of cricketers of the calibre of Morne Morkel and PJ Duminy? What is disturbing is the fact that since their return to Test cricket in 2011 after a seven-year absence, Zimbabwe has struggled against the top nations with the only team they have managed to beat during that period being the Tigers of Bangladesh.

Although there are many who are predicting a massive loss for Zimbabwe on the strength of their poor show of late and South Africa’s own excellent performances, others believe at home, Zimbabwe should be able to stand their ground. That would mean the team’s underachieving batsmen coming to the party.

Zimbabwe’s top and only consistent batsman is captain Brendan Taylor. But he too is ranked only 29th in the world, and he alone cannot save the team against the likes of the Proteas. For sure he needs to be complimented.

Hamilton Masakadza has in the past proved a perfect partner for Taylor in the top order. But the former Takashinga Cricket Club protégé has of late also lost his touch. Masakadza,the former world record holder who at one time was hitting 70 and above is performing below form.
However, it is against the likes of top sides like South Africa that Masakadza has always shone, and this is yet another opportunity for him to prove a point.

What is also encouraging is the return of Mark Vermeulen after a 10-year absence from Test cricket. Vermuelen last played for Zimbabwe in 2004 but his rich vein of form in the Zimbabwe A side has persuaded the selectors to have a look at him. Elton Chigumbura, Prosper Utseya, Vusi Sibanda, Sikandar Raza, and Sean Williams, also have to improve on their figures to at least just above 30 if Zimbabwe is to once again be respectable on the international front.

After the one off Test showdown at Harare Sports Club, the tour will then move to Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo for three ODIs from the 17th to the 21st of August. After that Zimbabwe and South Africa will return to the capital city to join Australia for a triangular ODI series at Harare Sports Club. The three sides will play each other twice, and the top two teams will meet in the final at the same venue on September 6. Zimbabwe will then conclude their busy schedule this year with a tour of Bangladesh in October. – Michael Kariati