For Zimbabwe to be competitive requires everyone to contribute rather than two or three players producing outstanding, individual performances. Even if the likes of Brendan Taylor, Hamilton Masakadza or Elton Chigumbura do grab the headlines, the team will still falter if the rest of the players don’t do the basics well.
We have always been in that situation and we faced up to that reality. The players looked at the superstars in the world game and knew we couldn’t match them – with respect to Dave Houghton, Andy Flower and Heath Streak who were in a different class to the rest of us. But we knew that the sum of our parts could be much greater than the individual pieces if we worked hard and did the basics well.
Fielding is the most obvious example. Zimbabwean teams in recent years have dropped far too many catches and failed to live up to the hard-earned and proud record we enjoyed throughout the 90s. We chased every ball as though the match depended on it and we practised catching until our hands were raw.
The bowlers are not the fastest or the most skilled, but they are capable of bowling to a plan and sticking to one side of the wicket. The batsmen, too, may not be able to play like AB de Villiers or Chris Gayle but they should be able – and fit enough – to hit the gaps, run hard and rotate the strike.
South Africa, obviously, will be a very hard opening game. If they play to their best ability then they should win. But if we capitulate and lose control of our basic disciplines then it could make life difficult for the remaining games. They may be a team of world class individuals, but they will also be nervous – every team will be before their first game. I hope we remember that it is a game between bat and ball and don’t think about the ‘names’ and reputations.
Defeat against the UAE, however, will be completely unacceptable. Zimbabwe is a Test nation and we should never be embarrassed by Associate nations. Without compromising the ‘stick to basics’ philosophy, I fully expect a degree of ruthlessness from the team. I expect Elton to lead the team out with a strut and an air of purpose. They must take charge early and dominate.
New coach Dav Whatmore said immediately he was appointed that his first goal was to take the team into the quarter finals. If Zimbabwe is to cause a ‘shock’ and progress to the knockout stages, then victory over the West Indies appears to represent our most likely chance. (Provided we beat Ireland, too.)
But if the players start looking ahead that far, they will be their own worst enemies. And if they allow themselves to believe the media speculation that the men from the Caribbean are “there for the taking”, then I suspect they might crash – badly. But they are just a couple of places above us on the ICC rankings and the opportunity to remind the world that Zimbabwe Cricket is alive and strong should be all the motivation they need to raise their game and rise to the challenge.
A World Cup is about winning and losing – that’s all that matters while you are there. But I also have my eye on the future, even as far ahead as the 2019 event when we are likely to have to qualify. With that in mind, it is vital that we redevelop the culture of fighting for every ball that made us everybody’s favourite underdog 15-20 years ago. We must compete. Really compete.
2015 © ICC Development (International) Limited