Zim recovering their pride

2010-03-03 00:00

ZIMBABWE cricket has come a long way recently, quite literally.

After the success of the inaugural 20/20 competition in Harare, the Zimbabwe team arrived in Trinidad last week for the start of their short tour to the West Indies.

It’s a long way from home — over 30 hours of travelling to get to Port of Spain, the venue for the first fixture. Despite their minnow status in world cricket, the Zimbabweans arrived on West Indian soil brimming with confidence and looking a lot fresher than I did.

The 20/20 game took place on a very hot and dry Queenspark Oval in front of an 8 000-strong crowd — surprising, considering the exorbitant cost of the tickets.

Zimbabwe won the toss and decided to bat. It was a nightmare start — after just three overs they were three wickets down without a single run on the board.

I was in an uncomfortable position in the commentary box in the company of some West Indian cricketing greats.

Knowing I had recently returned from Zimbabwe, they were keen to hear my impressions of the state of Zimbabwe cricket. I mentioned that in my opinion things were looking up and that the right systems and coaches appeared to be in place.

I added that Alistair Campbell had done well in bringing back past players and how impressed I was with the general skill level of the players. But as we watched events unfold on the field, I felt like cringing.

Far from my assurances that the standard of cricket in Zimbabwe had improved, the Zimbabwean batsmen appeared completely hapless. They looked totally out of their depth — like rabbits in the headlights.

The batsmen that I’d seen hitting the ball so cleanly and accurately a week ago looked like they had no idea where their next run was coming from. I believe in being positive, but watching Zimbabwe negotiate their first few overs made it really tough.

All too quickly the memories of my last visit to Port of Spain came back to haunt me. It was here that our Zimbabwe team were bowled out for 60 runs chasing just 90 to win the Test match.

So it was with huge relief that that I witnessed the Zimbabwean spinners taking charge later on. They pulled off a surprising victory in a game that will be most memorable for the highest number of ducks (eight) and the lowest totals in a 20/20 match to date!

Despite the circumstances, the Zimbabwe players are proud of their victory. This win will motivate them to continue improving the standard of their cricket and to keep focusing on the ultimate goal of getting back into the test arena.

I think they have a long way to go, but it is good to see the pride back in Zimbabwe cricket. The players are now secure in the knowledge that they will be looked after and that they’ll be paid properly, which is freeing them up to focus on their cricket.

With newly appointed head coach Alan Butcher in place and experienced former players Heath Streak and Grant Flower looking after the batting and bowling coaching departments respectively, things can only get better.

They are a young team, but a number of the players have over a hundred ODIs behind them.

They’ll need to call on this collective experience tomorrow in Guyana, where the first of five ODI matches will be played at the Providence stadium.

With the West Indies as mercurial as ever and Zimbabwe known for causing upsets, it’s a tough result to call. There is no doubt, though, that the Zimbabweans will be hoping to see a pitch that is slow, low and dry, and one that takes plenty of turn.

• Neil Johnson, a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder, lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.

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