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CW World Cup Countdown. Day 7 - Zimbabwe
02 Mar 2007
By: Alex Crampton


As part of a series of articles leading up to the World Cup, Cricket Web presents a daily review on the background, players and prospects a specific competing team, starting with the minnows and building up to the favourites. Today we feature Zimbabwe.

A lot has happened to Zimbabwe since the last World Cup, and they come into this one in their worst position since gaining Test status.

Once a side capable of being competitive with the big boys, they are now being beaten by Bangladesh, and it could just be a matter of time before they slip further behind cricket's main nations.

While they once boasted players of the calibre of Andy Flower and Heath Streak, politics have forced them away, and they are left with a very inexperienced young side, which has only a minute chance of doing as their predecessors did by advancing into the second stage of the tournament.

Lead up to the tournament

As has been the case since their exclusion from the Test match arena, Zimbabwe's fixture list has been bare compared to other nations in the lead up to the World Cup and those they have played haven't gone too well for them. October's ICC Champion's Trophy saw a dismal performance, with three thrashings from West Indies, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. There was also an A series against South Africa A, where South Africa's reserves convincingly beat what was effectively a full-strength Zimbabwe side. They've played one full ODI series, against Bangladesh, where a reasonably even series was lost 3-1 by Zimbabwe.

There has also, unsurprisingly, been no shortage of off-field issues in recent months. Mark Vermeulen, once a talented young batsman, was charged with arson after Zimbabwe's Cricket Academy was destroyed by fire. If convicted, he will face a lengthy prison sentence. Zimbabwe's board has also been accused of violating the human rights of their players. Three players were forced to comply with the board's new dress code by shaving off their dreadlocks, a move which provoked much protest.

Players to Watch

Prosper Utseya

Prosper Utseya is the man given the unenviable task of leading this Zimbabwe side into the World Cup. An off-spinner with an excellent economy rate, but who rarely takes wickets, he is aged just 21, but is already one of the senior players in the side with 59 ODIs under his belt. He was appointed captain after Terry Duffin was removed from the post last year, and made a good start, leading a young and inexperienced side to a series victory over Bangladesh. Despite his age, he is mature and level-headed, with a wise cricketing head on his shoulders. However well he may cope with the pressure, Utseya will have a difficult task getting the best out of his players, and even if he does rewards are unlikely. It would not be too surprising if he were to be relieved of the captaincy if Zimbabwe have a very poor showing in the tournament.

Brendan Taylor

One of Zimbabwe's most talented batsmen and competent behind the stumps, Brendan Taylor is a key part of Zimbabwe's batting line-up. Usually an aggressive batsman, he can take the game away from the opposition, but also has the ability to knuckle down and grind out a score. He has also been keeping wicket since Tatendu Taibu's departure, and though he is not up to his predecessor's standard he is still decent with the gloves. Taylor played one of the most memorable innings by a Zimbabwean in recent times last year, in an extraordinary win over Bangladesh. He scored 79 to take his team to a two-wicket triumph, and managed to score the 14 required from the last over, including six from the last ball of the match. This shows he is capable of scoring under pressure and when the chips are down, which is a very valuable asset indeed in this Zimbabwe side.

Vusi Sibanda

Before the last year, it wouldn't have been too harsh to call Vusi Sibanda one of the poorest players in international cricket. An ODI average in the teens for a specialist batsman and a domestic average that was little better are not the signs of a good player. Since then though, he has become a much improved member of the Zimbabwean side. Given multiple chances do the country's troubles, he has finally taken his. Sibanda has always possessed brilliant timing, and is the most elegant batsman in the side. He scored his first ODI century in 2006, along with several half-centuries, and has formed a relatively successful partnership with Terry Duffin at the top of the order. He has not had the chance to score runs against quality opposition since coming good, but this World Cup gives him an excellent opportunity to show what he can do.

Strengths

Like many of the weaker sides, Zimbabwe's batting is stronger than their bowling. They have a reasonable opening pair in Sibanda and former captain Terry Duffin, as well as other players capable of scoring runs against good opposition, such as Justice Chibhabha and Brendan Taylor. With these players, it's unlikely we'll see Zimbabwe subside against decent bowling, and it's possible they could post a respectable score. They also possess bowlers capable of keeping things tight in the middle overs, such as Utseya.

Weaknesses

In recent months, Zimbabwe have shown a lack of intensity chasing targets. They appear to give up rather too easily, and not have enough drive to fight until the end. While they have many batsmen capable of scoring, those capable of scoring quickly are shorter in supply, which probably contributes to their weakness chasing. The middle and lower order are also prone to collapses. While their bowling can be economical, it lacks potency, and their can be a sameness to their medium-pace battery.

Past World Cup Performances

While it is extremely unlikely that Zimbabwe will progress in this tournament, they have put in some impressive performances in the past. In their very first World Cup in 1983, they beat Australia on the back of an all round performance from then captain and now England coach Duncan Fletcher. It also took Kapil Dev's extraordinary innings of 175 for India to stop them from springing another surprise. Their campaigns in 1987, 1992 and 1996 were less successful, with a low-scoring dead rubber encounter against England in 1992 their sole triumph against a major nation and they also beat Kenya in 1996. The last two tournaments though, have been by far Zimbabwe's best. They reached the second round, The Super 6 in both tournaments, downing many of the more established nations on the way.
1975 & 1979 Did not qualify
1983 - Group stage
1987 - Group stage
1992 - Group stage
1996 - Group stage
1999 - Super Six
2003 - Super Six

Predicted Finish

Since 2003 though, Zimbabwean cricket has been on the slide. Political issues have led to their best players either being sacked or resigning, though there have been desperate attempts to get them to return. They have had their Test status revoked, and now rarely play against the top nations. As such, they have very little hope of getting past the group stage in the West Indies. Their group contains the hosts, along with Pakistan and Ireland. Though there is still a chance they could spring a surprise, the best they can realistically hope for is to maintain some dignity by defeating Ireland.

Zimbabwe World Cup Squad
Prosper Utseya (captain), Gary Brent, Justice Chibhabha, Elton Chigumbura, Keith Dabengwa, Terry Duffin, Anthony Ireland, Friday Kasteni, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Christopher Mpofu, Tawanda Mupariwa, Ed Rainsford, Vusi Sibanda, Brendan Taylor, Sean Williams

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