Mashonaland Eagles are having a strange season. They are overall the best of the franchise teams in one-day cricket, yet they are bottom of the log in the four-day Logan Cup competition, having lost all four of their matches.
John Ward talks to their captain, Stuart Matsikenyeri.
JW: So far this season, Mashonaland Eagles have been the best one-day team and the worst Logan Cup team. Can you account for that?
SM: We’ve been very good in the limited-overs, but very disappointing in the four-day game. Our bowlers have done a reasonable job, but we just haven’t batted well enough.
JW: This seems to be the problem with all the franchises, but you seem to have scored enough runs to win most of your one-day games.
SM: True. But in the longer version it’s about the time spent out there. For us at the Eagles, we haven’t done that. We haven’t been able to spend time at the crease long enough to get us some good scores.
JW: Do you think that the pitch here at Harare Sports Club is a handicap for batsmen?
SM: We wanted to challenge ourselves a bit more, so our wickets have generally been sporting. We have left more grass on it than we did last year, because we figured that when we look at the tour of New Zealand, for example, when the ball was moving sideways a lot, it’s a way we tried to make our batsmen work out their techniques on wickets that are going sideways a bit. It has done that, and we need to work out our way. It’s halfway down the season now as far as the Logan Cup is concerned, so you may think it’s time we had it all worked out, and we have to find a way to make sure we bat out there for longer.
JW: Do you find it more difficult to bat here at Harare Sports Club than at any other franchise ground in the country?
SM: No, I would not say so. It’s just the way the wicket is prepared on the day. Talking about our one-day stuff, we have enjoyed some of our bigger scores at Harare Sports Club, so it’s not more difficult to bat here.
JW: Can you name a ground this season where you have enjoyed batting the most?
SM: Personally I have always enjoyed batting in Kwekwe. I find it’s the one wicket in the country that has good pace and there are generally some runs in it.
JW: The fixture list has been modified this season, with separate batches of four-day and one-day cricket. Do you think we have about the best way of doing things now, or are there changes you would like to see?
SM: Speaking for my team and myself, we generally find that the format is good because at the top of the season we are playing limited-overs from one match to the next, so it allows you to put your plans together and pick the right team, especially when you are going away. The same is true for when you go away with your four-day team, and you can focus on your game and concentrate on it for longer. So we have found that the format has been good.
JW: Do you think the amount of one-day cricket played is about right, or do you think it is affecting our batsmen?
SM: I don’t think it is affecting the batters: it is up to the individuals involved to work out their own games, to be hard on themselves, to work out the longer version of the game. I think we are given enough time to get used to the four-day game. At the end of the day, when you look at the way cricket is going, there is a lot of one-day and T20 being played at international level, so the guys want to be prepared for that as well. But here in Zimbabwe we need to sort out our Test cricket. I think it is up to the individuals and coaches to put their heads together and work out the four-day stuff.
JW: All the franchises having batting problems to a greater or lesser degree this season. Can you account for that?
SM: It’s hard for me to speak for other teams, but in our own camp it’s something we are working really hard on, because we realise that we have a very good group of batsmen in our squad. We are very capable of batting for long periods of time, and last season we did bat more consistently. The wickets last season were flatter; this season all around the country they have been a bit more sporting. We have gone halfway down the season now, so it is time for us to correct what we did wrong. Our line-up is almost middle-heavy, made up of middle-order batting, and we don’t really have a strong top order. It’s something we have to deal with and make a plan. It’s the same with the other franchises, who will have seen where they have gone wrong and must sort it out.
JW: What do you have to say about your own batting form this season? (Stuart has a Logan Cup batting average of 15, 31 in the Pro50 and 16 in the T20.)
SM: I think with what we have been discussing, it has been the same for me. My form has been okay in the limited-overs and pretty poor in the longer version. We have a very strong batting line-up for the one-day stuff, and in two games I have come out to bat with three overs to go so I have had to play to the situation. But when I have had the opportunity, I have scored some runs. So I’m quite happy with the limited-overs, but the four-day cricket has been disappointing. As the captain, I expect myself to lead from the front and bat for long periods, but I just haven’t been able to do that.
JW: You don’t fancy going back to opening again?
SM: I’m always up for the challenge, but we are looking at what works for the team. At this stage I am expected to control the innings from the middle. But if the chance is there (to open), I can always put my hand up and get back up there.
JW: I hope you are hungry enough to get back into the national side again!
SM: Definitely, always! For all of us, that is what we aim for. It’s a great honour to play for your country and do well when you get there, so that’s what every individual is working hard towards.