ZIMBABWE Cricket (ZC) will welcome the ICC’s proposed scheduling revamp which, if adopted, should see the country benefit from more fixtures, more often.
National coach Heath Streak is hopeful that not only will game time allow Zimbabwe to drastically improve their performances, but will also encourage players to stay in the country instead of moving their playing careers elsewhere.
“When the Future Tours Programme was changed to operate on a negotiation basis – that really hurt us. There was no obligation for people to play some countries and too much emphasis was on the financial viability of tours and not enough on the development of cricket worldwide,” Streak told ESPNcricinfo.
“And it also had the effect of us losing some players because people who play international cricket want to do so regularly. They want to play something like 10 Tests a year and 20-30 ODIs. That’s what we are hoping to get.”
In 2014, three years after Zimbabwe’s Test comeback, the FTP was moved from a centrally controlled programme to a bilateral structure, which allowed the member countries to negotiate their own series. In that time, Zimbabwe have only played eight Tests and even though they have enjoyed more limited-overs matches – 63 ODIs and 23 T20s – the bulk of those have come against Bangladesh (two series) and Afghanistan (three). They have not played England at all and have not had any Tests against India, Pakistan, Australia or West Indies.
That is set to change under the new proposal, which is based on a 9-3 split that will see Zimbabwe grouped with Ireland and Afghanistan and will guarantee at least one Test against all Full Members in every two-year cycle. A tentative idea is for teams to travel to Zimbabwe on their way to South Africa. Zimbabwe will also be part of an ODI league, which will mean more matches in an attempt to qualify for the World Cup.
Geoff Allardice, the ICC’s general manager of cricket, will travel to Zimbabwe next week to explain the new structure ahead of an ICC scheduling workshop, which will be attended by Streak, and Tatenda Taibu, who works in a multi-faceted role at ZC. It is understood that Allardice will assure Zimbabwe the 9-3 split will not marginalize them, as they feared it would, but will ensure they have a fuller cricket calendar and that, in time, more teams may be added to the bottom tier, which will result in even more matches.
For now, though, Zimbabwe have to rely on themselves to plug the gaps – the latest of which would be as long as four months between the end of the recently completed series against Afghanistan and a yet-to-be-confirmed trip to Scotland in June-July on the way to Sri Lanka in August. Zimbabwe’s A side are planning a trip to Namibia in the interim which could take place around April-May, when Streak will be at the IPL in his role as Gujarat Lions’ bowling coach, a deal that was negotiated when he took the job.
Although Streak will be away, he is likely to keep a keen eye on proceedings if the A team plays, because it is from there that he finds his best performers.
“It’s no surprise that the guys who performed against Afghanistan were the same players as those who had done well in the A series we had just before,” Streak said.
Tendai Chatara is the best example. After finishing as the leading wicket-taker in the A series, Chatara was second, behind Chris Mpofu, in the ODIs against Afghanistan. Tarisai Musakanda, the top-order batsman who scored one of Zimbabwe’s four fifties in the series, was another.
Although Zimbabwe lost 2-3 and so, have yet to beat Afghanistan in an ODI series, Streak was not too disappointed in the result, and said his men still have a lot of unfulfilled potential. “I feel as though we had a lot more left in the tank than Afghanistan did. Our bowling was really good and we are a better fielding side and if we can encourage a few players to come back, then in a year’s time, I am confident we can play a side like this and look to dominate them,” Streak said.
Brendan Taylor and Kyle Jarvis, both having chosen Kolpak deals, are two of the players Streak has regularly mentioned when looking to lure cricketers back, but even someone like Solomon Mire is an example of players whose talent he looks to tap. Mire plays grade cricket in Australia and represented Zimbabwe at the 2015 World Cup but then fell off the radar. Streak and Taibu have negotiated a deal with him in which he can continue to live in Australia but has committed to attending all national team camps and availing himself for all international matches. Mire was even used to open the batting, a task that Streak calls, “the eternal search,” for some solidity at the top and bigger runs continues.
Zimbabwe did not total over 200 once in the five matches and were shot out for 54 in the final game to raise serious concerns about their ability to build totals. Streak explained it was a combination of conditions and the absence of some personnel and a whole lot of application that undid them.
“Our batting is a worry but Sikandar Raza and Elton Chigumbura were both injured and the other guys really lacked match practice. I feel for Lance [Klusener, batting coach] because he has done a lot of hard work and it’s now up to the batsmen to repay him, but these things take time,” Streak said.
“And a lot of our batsmen were challenged by facing spin. We didn’t always get the types of wickets we wanted – hard, bouncy wickets with a bit of grass. With the amount of rain around, that was difficult to get and the pitches actually ended up spinning a bit which played into their [Afghanistan’s] hands a little.”
With spin being a consistent challenge for Zimbabwe, one of their most pressing concerns will be the upcoming 2019 World Cup qualifiers. Originally scheduled for Bangladesh in March-April next year, the event may be moved if Bangladesh automatically get through to the tournament, which will suit Zimbabwe better. Bangladesh are currently ranked seventh and play Sri Lanka, a triangular series in Ireland and then at the Champions Trophy before the cut off on September 30 this year. Zimbabwe will be rooting for Bangladesh to finish in the top eight in the hope the qualifiers will be held in less spinner-friendly conditions, and later in 2018.
That will give Streak time to prepare his team properly for an event that, financially, Zimbabwe simply cannot afford to miss out on. Some of Zimbabwe’s plans are to take on South Africa’s High Performance Squad this winter and to invite some South African franchises to pre-season camps in Zimbabwe. But to get to the World Cup, they will have to start beating teams like Afghanistan, and Streak remains confident that with enough matches, they can.
“We beat West Indies, who are ranked above us, to reach the final of a tri-series (which also included Sri Lanka) and we lost 3-2 to Afghanistan, who are also ranked above us so it’s not all doom and gloom,” he said. “It’s about filling the big gaps. We camp and do a lot of training but nothing replicates game time and we need to play more cricket.” — ESPNcricinfo.