Zimbabwe must prove they belong in top tier

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OVERVIEW
THE theory is that the shorter the format, the more competitive teams will be. Zimbabwe have consistently proved that wrong. They haven’t played much 20-over cricket at the highest level, just 28 matches, and have only won four of those. They have never won a Twenty 20 (T20) series consisting of more than one match and never progressed out of the group stage at a World T20.

Today, they open their campaign against Ireland.

Perhaps, the more condensed the game, the easier it is to get shown up. There’s too much pride at stake for Zimbabwe to risk having that happen again. That’s why their captain Brendan Taylor has described it as “non-negotiable”, that his team qualifies for the main draw. Anything less will confirm suspicions that Zimbabwean cricket is in decline.

Key players
The advantage of having players thrown into the deep end young is that by the time they are a little older, their team can call on a core of experience. Zimbabwe have a handy one and will call on it to hold their nerve and provide the bulk of the runs and wickets.

Hamilton Masakadza will have to set the tone upfront, Taylor will have to ensure he holds innings together, Sean Williams is the finisher and Elton Chigumbura will have an all-round role to play.

Surprise package

It came as a surprise Tafadzwa Kamungozi was picked in the Zimbabwe squad and the only way the legspinner can repay the selectors is by springing a few of his own. Kamungozi last played for Zimbabwe in 2006 and has never represented them in a T20.

Weakness
Zimbabwean sportspeople are accustomed to playing the game against a backdrop of financial crises and administrative angst but this time the Zimbabwe players will have to do it with an additional hurdle: Minimal match time. Zimbabwe have not played against another international side in six months since hosting Pakistan and are sorely lacking competitive practice, even at domestic level.

World T20 history
After stunning then one-day international (ODI) world champions Australia in their first match of the inaugural World T20 in 2007, Zimbabwe have fizzled out. They have lost all five other matches played at World T20s.

They did not participate in the 2009 event and lost by narrow margins in 2010.

Recent form
There’s not much to speak about because Zimbabwe have been absent from the international stage since last September. Then, they came back from T20 and ODI series defeats to beat Pakistan in a Test in Harare and square that series. It was the stuff dreams were made of and then Zimbabwe woke up.

Hearts stopped when they lost to Hong Kong even though Zimbabwe did not play badly in the last-ball thriller.

They capped off their preparation with a victory over Afghanistan. Given the subcontinental team’s extraordinary rise, Zimbabwe will regard that as a coup and hope it’s a sign that can pull off a few more in the next week.

— Cricinfo