This winter needn’t be one of discontent for Harare’s cricket fans. India’s visit at the end of July, which includes five one-day internationals shared between Harare and Bulawayo, will buoy both local followers of the sport and Zimbabwe Cricket’s depleted coffers. The Indians will play three matches in Harare on July 24, 26 and 28.
The bilateral series lost a little of its gloss with the news that India would be resting several senior players, but the important thing is that it’s happening at all. Not a single official international match was played on Zimbabwean soil in 2012, and a lack of opportunities clearly affected the team’s development.
This year is, mercifully, turning out quite differently. Zimbabwe have already played 14 internationals, surpassing the eight they played in the whole of 2012, and the financial boost offered by a series against the world’s most popular team will enhance hosting opportunities in the latter half of 2013, when Pakistan and Sri Lanka are both scheduled to visit.
The last time India sent a second-string side to Zimbabwe to play one-day cricket, for the tri-series involving Sri Lanka in 2010, the tourists were soundly thrashed in all but one of their matches and were never in contention for the final. The desire to make up for that failure has obviously been outweighed by the need for some R’nR after India’s tour to the Caribbean, which ends 11 July.
Few would begrudge MS Dhoni a break, given India’s gruelling and virtually non-stop schedule, but the touring side will also be without several other senior players including Ravichandran Ashwin and Ishant Sharma and the Zimbabweans will be eyeing a rare series win.
The India series is also the first for the newly minted Zimbabwean coaching trifecta of Andy ‘Bundu’ Waller, Stephen Mangongo and Grant Flower. Zimbabwe showed definite signs of development under the good cop/bad cop pairing of Alan Butcher and Mangongo, who coached the team together for three years and oversaw the return to Test cricket. It is now up to Waller and co. to ensure that Zimbabwe’s tentative gains are not reversed.
For starters, Waller has taken on the task of improving the team’s fielding and fitness, and brought in Yorkshire fitness coach Tom Summers to that end following the resignation of long-time trainer Lorraine Chivandire.
“Believe me, if you don’t pass the fitness test, you won’t make my team,” Waller told the Daily News. “The players will know it. When I accepted the job, we discussed with the selectors and the board and they have agreed with me that the person that doesn’t pass, regardless of who that person is, won’t make my team.”
Zimbabwe’s 27-man training squad has been hit by the loss of Tino Mawoyo, who has undergone an operation for a groin injury, but otherwise contains all the usual suspects. Of those included in the squad, the spin group of Graeme Cremer, Prosper Utseya, Tino Mutombodzi, Mushangwe and veteran Ray Price could be key to Zimbabwe’s success against India – provided a brittle batting line-up holds together.
Despite early-morning dew and a distinct chill in the air, winter pitches in Zimbabwe tend to be dry and dusty, favouring slow bowlers. Zimbabwe’s successes in the 2010 tri-series and the unofficial twenty20 games against South Africa and Bangladesh last year were aided by the economical performances of the spinners. Their contribution will be no less important this time around.
India may not be sending their stars, but reasonable ticket prices for the ODI series put Harare’s cricket fans in a special position: almost nowhere else in the world can one watch India play for such a low price. If Zimbabwe play to their potential, India’s visit could yet be the highlight of the winter sporting calendar.