Zimbabwe in WI: Series Preview

Battered, bruised and desperate for revival. Does it matter that the West Indies and Zimbabwe do not have much in common otherwise?

In terms of heritage, it is a strict David and Goliath showdown. At one end we see a shadow of what was once the greatest of cricketing nations. Now the West Indies are reduced to barely competent and rarely competitive. The other is a young nation trying to find its identity once more. Inner turmoil plagues both and the scent of opportunity is fresh. Evidently the Richards, Marshalls, Flowers and Streaks are long gone.

What importance could such a series possibly hold? Aside from commercial value, it seems another pale segment of a furious, yet jaded, schedule of cricket.

The Players:

Zimbabwe ODI Squad:Terrence Duffin (captain), Justice Chibhabha, Elton Chigumbura, Charles Coventry (wicketkeeper), Keith Dabengwa, Ryan Higgins
Anthony Ireland, Blessing Mahwire, Keegan Meth, Tawanda Mupariwa, Edward Rainsford, Piet Rinke, Vusi Sibanda, Gregory Strydom, Brendan Taylor (wicketkeeper), Prosper Utseya.

Likely West Indies: Denesh Ramdin (wicketkeeper), Wavell Hinds, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Runako Morton, Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Dwayne Smith, Fidel Edwards, Ian Bradshaw, Corey Collymore, Daren Ganga, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Marlon Samuels, Pedro Collins.

Bangladesh’s recent showings suggest that the gulf is widening between Zimbabwe and the rest of the Test-playing pack. The touring Zimbabweans know that in the West Indies they have perhaps their best opportunity to beat a fellow Test match nation, albeit in one-day cricket. The West Indian perspective will accept nothing less than 7-0 to send off the Zimbabwean tourists. Pride is a fickle thing, but as poor as the fortunes of the regional side have been of late, the fans dictate that there is no greater embarrassment than losing to modern day Zimbabwe.

The two nations have played each other on 24 occasions, with the West Indies taking the lion’s share with 17 wins. The last 7 times they played, however, the margin was a closer 4-3 to the West Indies. The last series featured captain Heath Streak, Tatenda Taibu, Mark Vermeulen, Andy Blignaut and Ray Price – all players now conspicuously absent. Politics has brought the demise of a quality Zimbabwean outfit.

Though a different brand of political strain threatened to do the same to West Indies cricket over the last year and a half, a resolution seems closer than ever, and a full-strength team will almost certainly be on the field should the selectors deem to pick it. The selection of the first name seems the hardest, however, as much thought goes into the name of the new captain. The incumbent and recently resigned Shivnarine Chanderpaul will be extremely motivated to return to his best form. The stress of captaincy now handed off to another unfortunate soul, Chanderpaul potentially has 7 games destroy his demons.

The West Indies lacking assured leadership and potentially lacking Brian Lara, on paper the series should hardly be a contest. On paper the series is a nonchalant warmup for West Indies and the new captain ahead of June’s showdown with India. Three ODI wins since the start of 2005 may fade such “paper” dreams. That those 3 wins have come in 22 attempts is more so disconcerting.

The West Indies returned from New Zealand with just a solitary ODI win to show for a 9-game contest. It was another fruitless overseas tour, but bore the positives of the pace of Fidel Edwards and stability of Runako Morton. The West Indies continue to unearth a cast with the potential to turn their fortunes around, and a series against Zimbabwe brings great expectations, but also great opportunity to warm toward revival.

The expectations are minimal for Zimbabwe and though they would hope to build toward the 2007 World Cup with a young and inexperienced team, the future looks decidedly less promising.

All this considered and the pressure falls squarely on the home side. Any victory for Zimbabwe in the Caribbean will not diminish the world view of Zimbabwean cricket as below par. Rather it would ravage what pride remains in the region and further confirm a dramatic decline.

Cricket Web Players to Watch:

West Indies – Fidel Edwards
Though he has been around international cricket since 2003, rarely has Fidel Edwards been so present as he was in New Zealand. It was impossible to ignore his presence and influence, as even when he was not taking wickets, he rattled the spirits and helmets of countless Kiwi batsmen. The pace was partnered with direction and consistency, and it paid off with 5 for 65 in his last trip to the Test match bowling crease. His record against Zimbabwe is superb, as he took 8 wickets in his 2 Tests against them and 8 in a couple of ODIs. Indeed, if memories of Edwards’ historic ODI debut haul of 6 for 22 is not enough to warn Zimbabwe of his promise, they could be in for a swift challenge.

Zimbabwe – Terrence Duffin
Once more leading a team of virtual no-names, Duffin has thus far led Zimbabwe with heart and pride. We now look to see whether he can bring some success through those characteristics. His team failed to put away Kenya earlier this year, and the prospects in the Caribbean are less promising to say the least. Added to that, Duffin will be facing the new ball and with it, Fidel Edwards. The challenge is deliciously immense for the 24-year-old left-hander.

After pulling out of Test cricket earlier this year, it appeared Zimbabwe’s tour of the West Indies would be scrapped altogether. Come April 29, it is back to the grind with little more than pride at stake.

In the grand scheme of international cricket, a series between the present day incarnations of Zimbabwe and the West Indies is not one to stir the masses with great anticipation and interest. There is something less-than-sensational about hearing “Rainsford runs in to bowl to Morton”, but the contest is as meaningful to the participants as any.

The West Indies desperately need success and at this stage, the identity of the victims is inconsequential. After a 33-hour flight to reach the Caribbean, Zimbabwe are just pleased to be playing cricket.

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