Perhaps a good word for the Zimbabwe cricket team as they begin their fixtures against the touring Pakistan team would be: “Forget the pressure – enjoy the experience!”
Brendan Taylor, at a news conference at the start of the tour, admitted that perhaps a part of the reason for his disappointing form against India had been that he put rather too much pressure on himself.
Again, he said that the team’s fielding had been excellent in practice, but in the pressure of a match situation it had too often failed them.
All this sounds true, and surely is a sign that too many of the Zimbabwean players have allowed themselves to forget that cricket is a game, not a war, and international cricket should be a wonderful experience, not an ordeal.
It is not too easy for players to do this when many of them know their international careers are at stake and failure could cost them their place in the team.
This then is a moment to play each game as if it were to be the only game in their lives, to throw themselves fully into it with excitement rather than nerves and fear, and to enjoy every moment as a great experience that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
On paper – on recent form – Zimbabwe would appear to stand little chance of beating Pakistan in a single match: the tourists just having completed a three-one victory in ODIs against West Indies in the Caribbean.
This year, Zimbabwe has enjoyed more international cricket than last, but they struggled to beat Bangladesh on home soil – a sign that they would almost certainly have lost to those opponents away – and then went down heavily to India in the One-Day International series last month. India were playing away from home, with a team considerably short of full strength, but they were still too much for Zimbabwe .
Since then, Zimbabwe have suffered a major blow in the loss of Kyle Jarvis, who has opted to go and earn more money overseas than he does here, and so has abandoned Zimbabwe for England.
Zimbabwe now need one of the remaining seamers to step up to the plate and prove they are the man who will take Jarvis’s place as Zimbabwe ’s spearhead. Brian Vitori, Tendai Chatara, Shingirai Masakadza, Tinashe Panyangara: is anyone of you up for this? And what about Edward Rainsford and Michael Chinouya and others?
Zimbabwe has been blessed with the sudden emergence of 10 or more quality seamers over the past three years or so. The challenge now is for one or more of them to break through to the next level and become a genuine threat in international cricket. Hard, hard work, great determination and self-belief are necessary as well as raw talent. There is a desperate need for Jarvis’s former support bowlers burst through to take up the challenge.
But Zimbabwe ’s batting has so often failed the team. The hosts have in the captain Taylor, Hamilton Masakadza and Vusimuzi Sibanda three batsmen of considerable experience and great talent who just have not consistently produced runs in keeping with their ability.
Surely the problem lies more in the head than in the talent or technique.
Sikandar Raza Butt, a comparative newcomer, is an exciting batsman of outstanding ability and dazzling strokes who needs encouragement to play his natural game and tear into the opposing attack.
Malcolm Waller lost ground last season, and he will be looking to return to his best, while Sean Williams is a sound player who should continue to develop.
Zimbabwe also has an all-rounder of exceptional talent in Elton Chigumbura. If he is given a platform by the top order and licence to bat as he knows best, he can destroy opposing attacks as he has done before. He spoke not long ago of growing up as a cricketer, and with this increased application and the necessary support as aforementioned, he could be Zimbabwe’s best match-winner.
The talent is there in the team, but the mental strength is not what it should be. If the Zimbabwe players can just put aside their fears and enjoy the excitement of the experience, it may make all the difference.
Pakistan are well known for being unpredictable, but they carry too many big guns for Zimbabwe – especially in bowling – if the home team again fails to break the chains and play to their true ability.
The all-rounder Shahid Afridi, now 33, is still a ferocious attacking batsman and cunning leg-spinner, a world-famous name. Saeed Ajmal on his last tour here two years ago caused Zimbabwe’s batsmen plenty of problems, although it must be said they did not struggle against him as much as England’s did shortly afterwards. Abdur Rehman is also a fine spin bowler, while Mohammad Irfan leads a good pace attack, even if some top names are missing.
The captain for the limited overs versions Mohammad Hafeez, who scored heavily against Zimbabwe in the past, is at the head of a strong batting team, and in Misbah-ul-Haq Pakistan have a highly respected Test captain who is also a tower of strength to their middle order.
Pakistan will give good entertainment and considerable brilliance. It is up to Zimbabwe to rise above their fears and mental limitations and come out with positive passion – and enjoy a great experience!