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How can Zimbabwe get out of this rut?

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Last updated on 10 Jan 2024 | 09:33 AM
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How can Zimbabwe get out of this rut?

The Chevrons had a torrid 2023, having failed to qualify for the ODI and T20 World Cup

Zimbabwe’s downward trajectory is concerning and it is not something that has happened overnight. For some time, the issue has been the myopic approach. They have been heavily dependent on just 2-3 players, and if they do not fire every single time, they are reduced to mere agony and misery. 

However, results have not been guaranteed, even with the presence of their big guns.

Over the last decade, there has barely been a time when Sikandar Raza, Craig Ervine and Sean Williams - the pillars of Zimbabwe Cricket - have all been absent from the XI. They got a glimpse of it in the T20 International (T20I) series against Ireland recently, and it did not go well.

Imagine if that was a regular occurrence for the Chevrons in the near future.

It seemed like Zimbabwe, under head coach Dave Houghton, had indeed turned a corner. The results, too were positive, something that Raza acknowledged.

“The man is a revolutionary. He has revolutionised all of us with little he said. But it held a lot of weight: How much he has brought accountability and honesty in the changing room, brought about camaraderie in the changing room, how he has lifted and respected the seniors. He's got a magic wand, let me say that,” Raza said in a chat with Cricket.com last year.

However, since then, things have gone downhill for Zimbabwe.

They have failed to make it through to the T20 World Cup 2024, losing to Uganda in the Qualifiers, failed to progress to the ODI World Cup, lost a T20I series against Namibia and most recently, lost the ODI and T20I series against Ireland. 

After such a string of poor results, Houghton said he had lost the change room and quit as the head coach. It cannot get worse than that for Zimbabwe, can it?

The decision to hand the T20I captaincy to Raza, too, has not worked thus far, and the ongoing ODI series against Sri Lanka has failed to give the Chevrons any respite, given that they cannot win the series.

You look at another end of the spectrum, you have someone like the West Indies, who, like Zimbabwe, missed out on a chance to play the ODI World Cup. They succumbed to demoralising defeats against the Netherlands and Scotland in the Qualifiers. For them, too, it was a new low having not made it to a World Cup for the first-ever time.

However, since then, they have bounced back emphatically. They beat England in an ODI and T20I series at home and also registered a T20I series win over India after narrowly going down to them in the ODIs. They seemed to have found a settled unit, especially in the shortest format, which bodes well for them given that they are hosting the T20 World Cup at home in June this year.

Sticking to Zimbabwe, their immediate concern is about identifying the next set of players to take them forward. Yes, Burl is a great option, but who is in their plans in the long term? Who are they looking to groom in order to fill in some massive shoes?

From the batting point of view, they are heavily dependent on Ervine, Williams, and Raza, who have been the most prolific run-scorers across formats since the start of 2023. Burl has been perhaps the only one who has come remotely close to going toe-to-toe while the others have lagged.

It’s not because the others have not been given enough chances, it’s just the case of not going on to make it count. Wesley Madhevere has played close to 100 white-ball matches but averages just 21 in both formats. Clive Madande, too, has played over 30 games, but like many, he too has been thoroughly underwhelming.

The likes of Tinashe Kamunhukamwe, Milton Shumba, and Tony Munyonga, too, have failed to take over the mantle. The good news is they have age on their side, but at some point, the baton has to be passed to them, and they, too, need to do their part to take Zimbabwe forward.

Luckily, Zimbabwe have Richard Ngarava, Blessing Muzarabani, and, to a certain extent, Wellington Masakadza and Luke Jongwe to handle the mantle regarding the bowling department. But largely, it has been the Chevrons’ inability to churn out quality batters that has led to their downfall.

With no World Cup to look forward to this year, Zimbabwe have missed out on a golden opportunity to showcase their potential on a world stage – like they did in 2022 in Australia. However, it gives them a chance to reflect and map out their strategy for the next 4-5 years, and they will hope it is memorable.

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