Can Zimbabwe turn their fortunes around?
Zimbabwe have always turned up at big global events and left a mark more often than not, but of late, despite their stature as one of the 12 Test nations, they have underachieved. As painful as not even getting an opportunity to compete in the T20 World Cup last year, due to their ban, would have hurt, Zimbabwe look to make amends as they have been presented with a golden opportunity to restore their country’s pride after a dark, gloomy period.
Winning the Qualifiers, followed by white-ball series win over Bangladesh and also sparks of good shows against India at home, have certainly lifted the Zimbabwean spirits. It has also sent a message that they are not in the mega event to just make up the numbers, but also to live up to their true potential with crucial wins.
Sikandar Raza has been in the form of his life, be it in T20Is or in the ODIs. He was the player of the tournament in the Qualifiers – a tournament Zimbabwe won – for his all-round show. Barring him, a lot will depend on the way skipper Craig Ervine rallies his troops with the support of senior pros like Sean Williams, Luke Jongwe, Tendai Chatara and Blessing Muzarabani to name a few.
Lack of game time a concern?
Safe to say, Zimbabwe’s fortunes lie on how good a tournament Raza has. However, the team will be boosted with the return of Chatara, Wellington Masakadza and Blessing Muzarabani who have recovered from various injuries to be available for this marquee event.
One also must not forget, skipper Craig Ervine too has returned from a hamstring injury. As a result, such key players have barely had a chance to play competitive cricket over the last couple of months, making sporadic appearances at best.
Their batting looked scratchy in the first game against Sri Lanka, where they were beaten by 33 runs but in their second game against Namibia – a team to which they lost a T20I series earlier this year – no play was possible due to persistent rains.
Zimbabwe are a team that has got their bases covered, at least on paper. They have a left-arm pacer in Richard Ngarava, left-arm spin options in Masakadza and Williams, off-spin of Raza, leg-spin in Ryan Burl, who recently bamboozled the Australian batters with a fifer, and other pace options like Muzarabani, Jongwe and Brad Evans.
Players to watch out for (Since end of T20 World Cup 2021):
Sikandar Raza 516 runs at 39.69, SR 152.21 & 15wickets at 19.06, Econ 5.95
Sean Williams 240 runs at 30, SR 134.07 & 5 wickets at 17.80, Econ 4.94
Luke Jongwe 118 runs at 14.75, SR 132.58 & 15 wickets at 22.40, Econ 8
Zimbabwe’s best XI: Regis Chakabva (wk), Craig Ervine (c), Wesley Madhevere, Sikandar Raza, Sean Williams, Brad Evans, Ryan Burl, Luke Jongwe, Richard Ngarava, Wellington Masakadza, Blessing Muzarabani
With plenty of matches under their belt Ireland hope for a better show
Ireland started off the year with a come-from-behind 2-1 ODI series win against the West Indies in the Caribbean. What made it special was the fact that a few players including their skipper Andy Balbirnie missed the last two games and had to rely on a special all-round effort from Andy McBrine to pull off a heist.
Ireland have so much depth that McBrine does not find a place in the squad, despite featuring heavily across all white-ball matches.
“One of the most considered decisions we had to make was around our spin bowling options. With George Dockrell and Gareth Delany both having an impact this summer and the variation they bring to the attack, it came down to making a choice between Simi Singh and Andy McBrine,” Ireland chief selector Andrew White said, while announcing the squad.
“Andy can feel very unfortunate to have missed out this time, but we believe Simi offers more variation on Australian wickets with his ability to take the ball away from both right and left handers.”
With Craig Young also out of the tournament due to an injury, it takes away a lot of experience from the bowling department, but the likes of Josh Little, Mark Adair, Barry McCarthy, Curtis Campher and Simi Singh are certainly capable enough to lead the bowling attack.
You throw in the leg-spin option of Gareth Delany, and recently-capped pacers in Conor Olphert and Graham Hume, there seems to be enough depth there.
As far as their batting is concerned, a lot will depend on how Paul Stirling, Andy Balbirnie and Harry Tector go. If at least one of them kick on, Ireland should be in a position to win most matches. Not to forget, by promoting wicketkeeper-batter Lorcan Tucker to No. 3, Ireland have further extended their batting depth and the move has paid dividends.
Tucker has 373 runs at 41.44 to go with a strike-rate of 141.28 in that position. All his four fifties in T20Is have come when he has come in at the fall of the first wicket. It’s a no-brainer that Ireland will stick with him at the top of the order.
They got agonisingly close against top teams like India and New Zealand in the recent past, but going into the marquee event, they would certainly be delighted with the way they performed against Afghanistan – a series they not just won 3-2 – but also ended their eight-match losing streak in the format dating back to the T20 World Cup Qualifier final loss against UAE.
Players to watch out for (Since end of T20 World Cup 2021):
Josh Little 28 wickets at 19.60, Econ 7.80
Lorcan Tucker 505 runs at 26.57, SR 128.82
Harry Tector 344 runs at 28.66, SR 133.33
Ireland’s best XI: Andy Balbirnie (c), Paul Stirling, Lorcan Tucker (wk), Harry Tector, Gareth Delany, George Dockrell, Curtis Campher, Simi Singh, Mark Adair, Josh Little, Barry McCarthy.
Incidentally, Ireland and Zimbabwe face off in their first game of the tournament the Bellerive Oval, Hobart. They have two-time champions West Indies and Scotland to contend with as well. While West Indies are favourites to make it through to the Super 12s, the tussle will be between Ireland and Zimbabwe for one more spot.
This is certainly the tougher of the two groups in the first round and the one that could provide high-octane cricket as well given what’s at stake. Not looking too far ahead, making it to the main tournament would certainly be a step in the right direction, especially after missing out last year for different reasons.