Zimbabwe embrace underdog status

Zimbabwe playing Test cricket (Getty Images)
Zimbabwe playing Test cricket (Getty Images)

Johannesburg - Those hoping Zimbabwe would be insulted at being dismissed as mere punching bags in their one-off day/night test against the Proteas (to get the latter ready for more important clashes) will be surprised to learn how quickly they have sought the comfortable confines of the underdog status.

Zimbabwe begin their whirlwind tour of South Africa – hastily arranged because India decided to spite Cricket SA by arriving after both the Boxing Day and New Year’s Day tests – on Wednesday with a three-day game against the SA Invitation XI at Boland Park.

That match will be followed by a four-day pink ball test on Boxing Day in Port Elizabeth, Zimbabwe’s first day/night test and the first to be played in South Africa. It is a game that Zimbabwe, who have lost all three of the tests they have played in South Africa inside five days, are not expected to win.

And a quick conversation with their batting coach, former Proteas all-rounder Lance Klusener, revealed that they aren’t kidding themselves about winning the game, either.

“Let’s be honest, it is David against Goliath, but we’re looking forward to it,” said Klusener. “South Africa has four outstanding seamers and I think they might not even [need] a spinner under lights in Port Elizabeth.

“But we have to deal with it because we’ll be facing guys who bowl around 140km/h. We’ve tried to prepare for it, even though our guys aren’t used to facing that kind of bowling. We’re just going to have to deal with it.”

Klusener said the Zimbabweans have embarked on a new approach under their new head coach, former captain Heath Streak.

“We’ve made a conscious effort to play as much cricket as we can and against anyone.

“The South African attack will be a little different [to the West Indies, their most recent test opponents]. We’re going to be under pressure, but we’re getting into a space where we’re trying to embrace it. The South African team is a helluva team, but it’s a challenge we look forward to.”

Looking at the two-test series at home against formerly great West Indies, which Zimbabwe lost 1-0 after a 117-run defeat and a draw, Klusener thought there were some positives to come out of that, with Hamilton Masakadza in the runs and Sikandar Raza turning in fine all-round performances.

“I thought we did reasonably well; we’ve been getting some runs on the board. We got more than 300 a couple of times, which was good for us. Holding them to a draw – they are a regular test team and we only play about two tests a year – was a good thing for us,” Klusener said.

The fact that it is their first day/night test, with the pink ball moving almost violently by way of swing or seam, is another moving part the Zimbabweans will have to negotiate.

“It’ll definitely be something new for us, but we certainly look forward to it and are grateful for the opportunity. The more we can play day/night games the better it is for us,” said Klusener.

That said, there is an opportunity of sorts for the visitors as the test has been reduced to four days, which gives them the best chance of a drawn match.

“I was a little surprised they cut the days, but we’re still grateful for the opportunity. The shorter the game, the better it is for us. We just want to put enough runs on the board.”

The Zimbabwean selectors have left out all-rounder Sean Williams, batsman Malcolm Waller, fast bowler Michael Chinouya and wicketkeeper Nyasha Mayovo in favour of youngsters Blessing Muzarabani (fast bowler) and Ryan Burl (batsman).

“We’ve got a couple more youngsters we might give a chance,” Klusener said.

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