Dubai: If any of the top teams in Pool B want to take Zimbabwe lightly, they can do so at their own peril as the African minnows could be a potential banana skin and provide a twist in the tale.
Zimbabwe has been a sleeping giant over the years — with their performance have been periodically deteriorating over the years due to multiple reasons since 2003, especially after losing their Test status and subsequently returning to the fold finally in 2011.
Ranked 10th among the top Test playing nations, Zimbabwe can take the field with a relaxed frame of mind as they have nothing to prove and play without pressure. The team have some quality players and have the ability to surprise — as they showed by stunning Australia in a One Day International in the Tri-series also involving South Africa in Harare last August. Zimbabwe have had many a close encounter which they have managed to lose in the past. A classic case was in 1983, when they had champions India on the mat before captain Kapil Dev came up with a gem of an innings to pull his team out of trouble. However, earlier in the same edition, they had stunned Australia with Duncan Fletcher playing a key role.
It was in Australia in 1992 that they again tasted a big success when they defeated England, though the Africans produced their best in England in 1999 when they defeated India and South Africa to enter the Super Sixes for the first time. They again booked the Super Sixes spot in 2003 at the expense of England, who conceded the match.
The Elton Chigumbura-led squad have a mix or experience and youth. The Zimbabwe skipper is ably assisted by veteran Hamilton Masakadza, who will be playing his first World Cup, along with experienced players like Craig Ervine, Brendan Taylor and Sean Williams, who form the core of their batting. All-rounder Chigumbura and Prosper Utseya will be shouldering the bowling responsibilities.
Zimbabwean bowling has all the variations that is required for the bowler-friendly wickets, loaded with quality pacers and spinners. Sikandar Raza, Solomon Mire, Tinashe Panyangara are the pace options available for coach Dav Whatmore to fall back on while Utseya (off-spinner), Williams (left-arm orthodox) and Tafadzwa Kumungozi (leg-spinner) offer variety in the spin department for the team that also includes some part-timers.
The squad Down Under may be a little short on match practice, especially after their first match against New Zealand was abandoned due to rains. However, their bowlers got a good run-in and must be confident after reducing the co-hosts to 157 for seven in 30.1 overs. New Zealand opener Martin Guptill’s century spared the co-hosts the blushes as Panyangara and Chigumbura claimed two wickets each.
The squad, however, had been active during the last year and will take heart from the fact that they had managed a 2-2 draw against Afghanistan in the four-match series in July-August, before upstaging Australia.
Whatmore has set the target of getting Zimbabwe out of the group stage into the last eight stages. The Australian knows a few tricks and has the ability to achieve his goal.