As the nation endures another AFCON nightmare…Spotlight falls on cricket

MEN ON A MISSION . . . Zimbabwe cricket coach Dav Whatmore (right) chats with top order batsman Sikander Razza-Butt (left) while Solomon Mire listens to the conversation at Town House yesterday where the team bade farewell to their fans ahead of their trip Down Under today for the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup

MEN ON A MISSION . . . Zimbabwe cricket coach Dav Whatmore (right) chats with top order batsman Sikander Razza-Butt (left) while Solomon Mire listens to the conversation at Town House yesterday where the team bade farewell to their fans ahead of their trip Down Under today for the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup

Eddie Chikamhi Sports Reporter
THE Zimbabwe cricket team has been challenged to do well at the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup to put the smile back on the face of a nation depressed by the Warriors’ pathetic failure to qualify for the Nations Cup finals in Equatorial Guinea.

The country’s band of cricketers are scheduled to fly out of the country today for their tour of duty in Australia and New Zealand where they will get their campaign underway against one of the pre-tournament favourites South Africa next month.

Zimbabwe are in a tough Group B that features defending champions India, South Africa, Pakistan, West Indies, United Arab Emirates and Ireland.

The players and the technical team mingled with fans at Town House in Harare where they signed autographs and had photo shoots.

Deputy Mayor of Harare, Thomas Muzuva, who hosted the players at Town House, said it was important that the cricketers deliver during their tour of duty Down Under.

Muzuva said Zimbabweans were fully behind the national cricket team and were looking for something to cheer their spirits, from a sport field, following the failure by the Warriors to reach the Nations Cup finals.

The Warriors have now failed to qualify for the Nations Cup finals for nine years and in the qualifiers for the current tournament being held in Equatorial Guinea, they suffered the humiliation of being knocked out of the first round of the preliminary stage by lightweights Tanzania.

It marked the third time that the Warriors have failed, to make it to the Nations Cup finals, under the watch of Cuthbert Dube, the ZIFA president, who has come under intense pressure in recent weeks.

Muzuva said the nation was desperate for sporting heroes who could help ease the pain inflicted by the failure of the footballers to make it to Equatorial Guinea.

“Go out there and show the true Zimbabwean spirit of resilience, fight, dedication, love for one another and above all the spirit of winning,” Muzuva told the cricketers.

“As we speak today there is the Africa Cup of Nations finals in Equatorial Guinea. Our soccer guys did not make it there.

“We have now deposited all our faith and hope in you the cricket team. So, go out there and bring smiles on our faces.

“It is a great honour for Zimbabwe to be part of the 14 nations that will battle it out at the premier cricket showcase.

“That honour should be supported by your exemplary behaviour on and off the pitch.”

Zimbabwe top order batsman, Brendan Taylor, said the team leaves for New Zealand today in high spirits as they hope to cause an upset and, at least, progress to the quarter-finals at the ICC World Cup.

Taylor, who is one of the most experienced players in the Zimbabwe side, yesterday said they were looking to do better than their performances at the last World Cup when they crashed out in the first round.

Zimbabwe have a new coach Dav Whatmore, who won the World Cup with Sri Lanka in 1996 and that has brought renewed hope in the team.

“Team spirit is very good, I think it’s the best it has been in a long time,” said Taylor.

“The guys are excited about what the new coach has brought in. He is a very experienced coach, he has a World Cup under his belt.

“So, he is sharing some valuable knowledge that we are all buying into.”

The team departs this afternoon for a 10-day training camp in New Zealand where they hope to intensify their preparations.

Zimbabwe have lined up three practice matches against local sides next week starting on Monday.

They will then engage co-hosts New Zealand and Sri Lanka in two more warm-up matches.

“The expectations for us are to go down there and win,” said Taylor.

“I believe we can win. Obviously, we will be trying to beat Ireland and UAE, of which we are expected to do that, and then hopefully get one big win over one of the other teams and qualify to the next round.

“So that’s definitely our aim and we feel we are more than capable of doing that.

“Of course, they are all going to be tricky (games). Obviously, they are the four main teams in South Africa, India, West Indies and Pakistan.

“But we feel if we can get a win over Pakistan or West Indies, they can be vulnerable at times. So if we can play our best cricket we certainly can get one over them.”

Zimbabwe will be looking up to the experience of players such as Taylor, Sean Williams, Craig Ervine, Regis Chakabva, Prosper Utseya, Tinashe Panyangara and captain Elton Chigumbura.

Chamu Chibhabha, Tawanda Mupariwa and Stuart Matsikenyeri played at the 2007 World Cup and are making a return to the tournament in the West Indies.

There have been also interesting additions to the team like Hamilton Masakadza who will need to prove himself for the first time at the big stage after missing the last three editions.

Hopes are also pinned on the other World Cup debutants like Sikandar Razza-Butt, Solomon Mire, Tendai Chatara and Tafadzwa Kamungozi who have shown much promise.

“It’s exciting with the youngsters that we have in the side. We have a couple of new faces like Tafadzwa Kamungozi and Solomon Mire,” said Taylor.

“These are guys that are certainly going to contribute to the team. We feel we have a nicely balanced side and players that can win games for Zimbabwe as well, so that’s very important.

“The preparation has been good. The guys are fresh, they have trained hard and we still got an extra week in New Zealand to prepare.

“So that will be vital, with two extra games before the ICC warm-up matches start.”