HAMILTON. â Zimbabwe have gone from being hopeless lightweights to one of the dangerous underdogs, in just a few weeks, and after stunning performances in their official warm-up matches, go into their ICC Cricket World Cup opener against powerful neighbours South Africa tomorrow, hopeful they can spring a huge surprise.
Somehow, just a month ago, it was hard to believe that Zimbabwe could be competitive at this World Cup â the demoralising effects of a disastrous tour of Bangladesh there for everyone to see.
But all that has changed since the arrival of experienced coach Dav Whatmore, a change in attitude by the players, unity in their camp and a spring in their step brought by a good build-up to this World Cup since they landed in New Zealand.
Former Zimbabwe captain Alistair Campbell feels thereâs no reason why skipper Elton Chigumbura and his men canât repeat the 1999 heroics and beat the Proteas.
Sixteen years ago, Campbell captained Zimbabwe to a 48-run win over the much fancied Proteas side, which featured the likes of Lance Klusener and Shaun Pollock.
Campbell believes the 1999 Proteas team was better than the current squad, which gives him the confidence that Zimbabwe could do it again.
âYou can go through the list of that team in 1999, itâs probably the best one day side ever assembled by any nation and they were daunting on paper.â
EWN Sport asked Campbell what itâll take for Zimbabwe to win again.
âLarge amounts of luck, good fortune, a bit of skill, catching a side like South Africa on a bad dayâ¦ Theyâve obviously just had one against New Zealand, so itâs not a great time because theyâll be looking to bounce back.â
He says they just need to believe they can do it.
âItâs going to be a tough one; itâs always tough against South Africa. Weâll definitely go in as underdogs but if we can just back our ability, not put too much pressure on ourselves, go in there and just play the ball and not the man weâve got half a chance.â
Zimbabwe requested to train under the glare of Seddon Parkâs pylons as they gear up to take on South Africa.
For most teams, thereâs nothing unusual about that but for Zimbabwe, who have played little more than a fifth of their ODIs under lights, getting used to changing conditions is essential.
Only 94 of Zimbabweâs 437 games have been day-night games, compared with 251 of the 528 matches South Africa have played under lights, and none of them took place at home.
Zimbabweâs experience under lights has been severely restricted.
All five ODIs they played in Bangladesh on the November-December tour last year were day-night games but before that, they last played one in New Zealand in February 2012.
They lost all those encounters.
The last time Zimbabwe won a day-night ODI was almost five years ago, against Bangladesh in Dhaka in October 2009, which does not bode well for them at this World Cup.
All but one of Zimbabweâs group matches â the one against UAE â are day-night games so they need to get used to changing conditions and the impact that will have on game plans.
âWeâre not too sure whether weâd prefer to defend or chase under lights, it will all depend on the conditions on the day and just what we see,â Hamilton Masakadza told ESPNcricinfo.
âItâs something we need to get a bit of a feel for and adjust to soon.â
Night-time conditions are challenging because the moisture caused by dew impacts all three aspects of the game.
Thatâs why, instead of spending yesterdayâs evening in the pub, Zimbabwe decided to experience match-day conditions.
It is their only opportunity to do that, after both warm-up games were played in daylight hours.
When the South African team set off for the World Cup, their charismatic sports minister Fikile Mbalula, along with demanding they do not return a âbunch of losers,â told them that the more they win, the likelier it is that the country will be able to âforget about load-shedding,â and bask in the rays of success.
Former South African all-rounder Jonty Rodes says he believes Zimbabwe can spring a surprise or two.
Two arch-rivals, a perennial choker, a once invincible team, and three minnows â this summarise the Pool B of the cricket World Cup 2015, which consist of India, Pakistan, South Africa, West Indies, Zimbabwe, Ireland and the United Arab Emirates.
At first gaze, it seems easy to guess which four teams will progress to the quarter-finals. But if Ireland and Zimbabwes heroics in the warm-up games is anything to go by, we are in for some surprise, perhaps an upset as well in Pool A.
The Zimbabweans beat Sri Lanka and the Irish got the better of Bangladesh â thatâs enough to get the alarm bells ringing.
The 14 participating teams at the World Cup have been divided into two groups of seven each. Every team plays the other six in its group once.
The four top teams from each group qualify for the quarter-finals.
The same format was followed for the 2011 World Cup and much like that tournament, it is a no-brainer to predict the top eight teams unless one of the top-eight Test nations have a really bad tournament against Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and the four Associate teams â Ireland, Scotland, UAE and Afghanistan.
Zimbabwe have been around for quite some time now but their minimal improvement over the years has restricted them to the minnowsâ status.
The country, which will make its ninth appearance in the mega event, is very likely to pull off a few heists this year.
They have produced some great all-rounders but have moved down the ladder since their peak in the late â90s and early 2000s.
In this World Cup, Zimbabwe have already notched up a stunning win over last editionâs runners-up Sri Lanka in a warm-up game.
Led by the talented Brendan Taylor and mentored by World Cup-winning coach Whatmore, Zimbabwe have all the elements to upset a few more calculations. â Sports Reporter/Agencies.