Zimbabwe cricket: 2008 in review

Posted by brmtaylor.com admin on December 27, 2008

The year started with a 0-5 drubbing by Pakistan, and ended with a 0-5 drubbing by Sri Lanka. Suffice to say 2008 was not the best year for Zimbabwean cricket.

Let's have a look at some of the most topical stories of 2008.

MTN Domestic Championship: Inclusion into South Africa's top domestic competition was vital for Zimbabwe as it allowed consistent exposure to players with First Class and List A experience. Zimbabwe's fortunes were mixed though, winning some games but not nearly enough to silence critics. Realistically, what this competition did show is that the Zimbabwe national team is about as strong as the average South African domestic team.

Robin Brown: For the first time in years, Zimbabwe had found a coach to instil a winning spirit, to promote positive cricket. Brown's first match in charge was the historic win over Australia in the ICC World Twenty20. Despite disappointing results in South Africa and Pakistan, there was an obvious improvement in the team. However, it is now evident that Brown and the board had opposing views, leading to Brown's unfair sacking leading to the arrival of...

Walter Chawaguta: Chawaguta was thrown into the deep end, and that he cannot be blamed for, but his unprofessional approach to coaching leaves a lot to be desired. Instead of shielding his players from criticism, he goes the other way to save his own skin. Due to a lack of interest in the position, Chawaguta will remain coach for the time being. The upcoming tour of Bangladesh is make or break after having tied with Canada, and lost to both Kenya and Uganda. With a well balanced squad at his disposal, Chawaguta has one more chance to get it right.

Prosper Utseya: If there was anything more disappointing than Chawaguta's performance as coach, it was Prosper Utseya's performance as captain. It has been common knowledge for some time that Utseya isn't the best man for the job, but perhaps he has been fortunate to have a capable coach to guide him in Robin Brown (and to a lesser extent, Kevin Curran) during his tenure. Under Walter Chawaguta, Prosper Utseya's captaincy has been well and truly exposed. Batting first in the 2nd ODI against Sri Lanka several months ago may well have been the biggest tactical blunder cricket has seen since the infamous Duckworth Lewis incident at the 2003 World Cup, but thankfully for Utseya and Chawaguta the series was low key enough that few people would have known about it. Prosper Utseya does where his heart on his sleeve though, nobody can say he doesn't have his heart in the right place. No doubt he is doing the best he can under the circumstances, but at the elite level there is no margin for error.

Al Barakah Cup Twenty20 in Canada: Zimbabwe conceded a tied match to Canada (but won the resulting bowl off, thankfully), one of the many low points of 2008.

Sri Lanka in Zimbabwe: The first two matches were heartbreaking. In the first match, Zimbabwe lost 7 wickets for 3 runs while in the second match Zimbabwe were bowled out for 67. Zimbabwe did fight back in the final three matches, with Tawanda Mupariwa and Hamilton Masakadza putting in some memorable performances, but what this series will be remembered for will be the embarrasment that the first 2 games provided.

Departures: Terry Duffin, Gary Brent, Brendan Taylor, Brighton Mugochi, Jemton Chinyengetere, Tarisai Mahlunge... and they are just the ones we know about. Hopefully some of those names will return at some point. Sean Williams very nearly made it to this list, but he has confirmed that he will stand by Zimbabwe Cricket.

While this year was, by and large, a write-off, there are some positives to reflect upon.

Sean Williams, Ray Price, Hamilton Masakadza, Tatenda Taibu, Tawanda Mupariwa: These five players have had very good years, particularly Price and Masakadza. There have been some very good individual performances this year - Williams and Taibu both scored centuries in the MTN Championship, Price stunned opposition sides with his accuracy and now shares with Utseya the stats of most economical bowling performances in a Twenty20.

Regis Chakabva, Graeme Cremer: Two players who have been knocking on the door for some time have been extremely impressive in their limited opportunities. Chakabva scored a match winning 71 not out in the MTN Championship, while Graeme Cremer's 2/10 against Canada demonstrated the extreme talent he possesses. Ideally, Chakabva would be in the team instead of the out of form Stuart Matsikenyeri, while Cremer - who as a legspinner has far a lot of variety and turn - is a more threatening bowler than captain Prosper Utseya.

For 2009:

Who needs to go: Walter Chawaguta. It's hard to see him having learnt everything he needs to know to be a decent coach in just one month. We need to brace ourselves for a humiliating series against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, but the strange thing is that Zimbabwe do have the raw talent to pull off an upset against the odds.

Who needs to lift next year: Prosper Utseya. As a bowler, he is very economical which is fantastic. He needs to become a real wicket taking threat though, because at the end of the day, bowlers are paid to take wickets.

Who needs to be kept away at all costs: Steven Mangongo. Zimbabwe would be going backwards to give the coaching job to Mangongo. With no high level coaching experience and zero playing experience to speak of, he could not be better than Chawaguta. If Zimbabwe are serious about finding a coach, they should be looking at coaches in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Any coach of a state/provincial team in those countries would probably have more to offer than any of the current candidates, and may not have reservations about travelling to Zimbabwe.

Who needs to take the next step: Bradley Staddon made his Logan Cup debut this year and put in some gritty performances - he averages 34.12 with a strike rate of 44.03. What is tough to determine is whether the strike rate is a reflection of the Zimbabwean pitches or Bradley Staddon's approach to First Class cricket. If it is the latter, then Staddon should be developed as a potential Test prospect. Zimbabweans have a habit of throwing their wicket away, so a top order batsman who will protect his wicket at all costs would not be a bad thing at all - see Michael Clarke's 88* from 208 deliveries against South Africa. Not the prettiest innings, but very important to push towards a competitive total.

What is a realistic goal for 2009: Assuming that Chawaguta is given the coaching job full time and Utseya retains the captaincy (which looks like the most likely scenario at the present time), supporters shouldn't have any high expectations. Developing more players would be a good aim, because at the moment there is very little squad depth. In terms of team performances, Zimbabwe (according to the Future Tours Programme) has fixtures against Bangladesh, Kenya, Sri Lanka and New Zealand next year. New Zealand will in all likelihood fail to tour, leaving just Bangladesh, Kenya and Sri Lanka. Concerning for Zimbabwe is that Kenya is pencilled in for 5 ODI's, and it is hard to see Kenya losing all of those matches. If Zimbabwe can win the series against Kenya, win one in every three matches they play against Bangladesh and score one victory against Sri Lanka, that would be a good showing.