HARARE — A lot has changed in Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) with just a few weeks to go before the tournament starts, which may not be regarded as the best preparation.
However, Davenell “Dav” Whatmore is the most experienced international coach in history, so the players can only benefit from his coaching expertise.
Whatmore has said his goal is to make it out of the group stage and into the quarter-finals. In all honesty, that would be a more than creditable achievement.
Finishing in the top-four of Group A would require two victories. Ireland and the United Arab Emirates are the two qualifiers in the group and Zimbabwe should certainly start as favourites, although I expect them to be extremely hard games.
The ICC has done a fine job in assisting the associate nations to prepare for the tournament and they will have been together and playing practise matches for what feels like months by the time we arrive.
It’s probably fair enough to say they will be more thoroughly prepared than Zimbabwe by the time of the opening ceremony.
We couldn’t have a tougher assignment than South Africa for our opening game and it will be equally hard to come up with a victory against India, West Indies and Pakistan.
Fortunately, you don’t need to have the memory of an elephant to recall our happy, giant-killing days. It was only six months ago that we beat Australia at Harare Sports Club and most of the players who were involved in that game arealso in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 squad.
Zimbabwe has most of the required elements to balance the squad. Sikander Raza and Chamu Chibhabha are both capable of exploiting the PowerPlay overs at the top of the innings, while Hamilton Masakadza is perfectly able to bat through the innings and provide the foundation.
What a relief that he is finally making an appearance in the game’s greatest showpiece. Three tournaments have come and gone since he made his international debut, but he missed them all.
Too young, too injured and too out-of-form were the reasons in 2003, 2007 and 2011. More than anyone, he deserves this chance.
Brendon Taylor is still our finest batsman in the middle-order and I also fancy Sean Williams to enjoy the pace and bounce of the Australia wickets.
As always, the spin department is well stocked. I’m still a bit baffled by how Prosper Utseya will get on without being allowed to bowl his off-spinner, but no doubt he’ll find a way.
He’ll certainly be the only bowler in the tournament without a “stock” ball. He has been bowling medium-pacers and off-cutters recently so perhaps that is the way he will go.
Tafadzwa Kamungozi’s leg-spinners can pose real problems, but he will need some assistance from the pitch to be at his best. Williams is miserly with his left spin.
There is no out-and-out fast bowler in the squad although, on his day, Tendai Chatara can get close to 140kmh.
He makes a useful new-ball pairing with Tinashe Panyangara whose strength is his accuracy and consistency.
They have both been able to tie batsmen down by bowling a fourth stump line in Test cricket, but they’ll need to work on a few more variations in 50-over cricket.
A special word to Stuart Matsikenyeri. Another of the young players who had to carry the responsibility of ZC following all the changes in 2004, he has never given up on his dream, despite years away from the game.
This is a second chance, or even a third chance to show what he can do. His experience, on and off the field, will be crucial to our chances of competing and doing our country proud.
The balance of the starting XI depends, as it has done for almost his entire career, on the bowling form of captain Elton Chigumbura.
At best he needs to be one of the five frontline bowlers, but in the worst case scenario, he needs to be fit and confident enough to bowl five or six overs each match which will allow Zimbabwe to play a seventh specialist batsman.
Like many observers, I believe the successful sides will be those which bat deep and can withstand the early loss of wickets against two new balls.
Zimbabwe has started previous ICC Cricket World Cups with greater hope and expectation than before this one.
Recent results, notwithstanding the Australia game, have not been good and a clean-sweep of losses in Bangladesh on the last tour left many bleak faces.
But there can be an advantage in all of that. Believe me, I know all too well what can be achieved when a team plays with nothing to lose and with no fear of failure.