HARARE – In an era where cricketers regularly fling themselves, faux-fly almost, to save a single run, an act as routine as running from fine leg to save a boundary immediately after bowling an over is no longer something to be impressed by, except in certain circumstances.
Like the one Davenell “Dav” Whatmore saw when he got to Zimbabwe.
“I was watching one of Zimbabwe A’s matches against Canada and Tawanda Mupariwa was bowling. He was doing well, putting in a lot of effort and then came back to fine leg and as soon as the ball was hit, he was on it. To get that frame down and stop the boundary took some doing, but there was real commitment there. I remembered it,” Whatmore said.
Although Mupariwa is no Morne Morkel, he has found a way for his fielding to stand out, and that’s not the only way he sets himself apart.
Mupariwa was the fastest Zimbabwean to 50 one-day international (ODI) wickets, snaffling them in just 28 matches, but then dispatched to the heap of discards Zimbabwean cricket has collected. Although aggressive, Mupariwa was also erratic.
With a cricketing structure that had the same problem, it was difficult for Mupariwa to develop, but all that could be changing as ZC tries to turn the page.
Their numerous attempts to start over have the same drowsy feeling you get, when reading a book late at night when you are squinting your eyes open and straining to stop the hardcovers from falling on our faces.
Whatmore felt none of that when he was approached and agreed to take charge of a unit that had been blanked 8-0 across Tests and ODIs in Bangladesh with only six weeks to go before a World Cup.
“I got a sense of genuineness to turn things around, especially from the players. They seem to think enough is enough and what they want to do better and I was pleased that they want to turn things around,” Whatmore said. “They want to move on.”
The first step on that journey might be the most difficult because it takes place at on the biggest stage: The World Cup. Apart from the pressure of a major tournament, Zimbabwe are poor travellers, who have lost everywhere from New Zealand to West Indies since their Test comeback four years ago.
That leaves Whatmore with a lot of work to do in very little time, especially if he hopes to get them out of the group stage and into the knockouts.
“I am always an optimist, but I am going in with my eyes wide open. They can play and they are tough enough. They’re just looking for more of what they need to perform. I hope to make a difference in terms of getting their performances to improve,” he said.
“Even though it’s a World Cup and important matches, it’s still a game. When the umpire says play, you have to relax and play or it’s not going to work.”
Whatmore’s challenge is to get Zimbabwe to “play” for the full length of a 50-over game. Often, as was the case in their triangular series last August, in which they hosted South Africa and Australia, Zimbabwe kept pace with their opponents for two-thirds of the game before getting overtaken.
“They need to stay in the game until the last five or ten overs. That’s when they fall away,” Whatmore said. “The longer you’re in the game, the more chance you have of winning it.”
For that, they need a line-up that can bat deep and Whatmore believes they are able to tick that box. “Brendan Taylor and Hamilton Masakadza are experienced guys who know what’s required of them and there are a lot of talented players around them, guys like Sean Williams.”
Williams was recalled after missing out on the tour to Bangladesh following a dispute with the selectors and is one of several players, including Stuart Matsikenyeri, who will use the World Cup to make a comeback.
More crucially, Zimbabwe need an attack who could do more than just keep the opposition quiet. They need wicket-takers and that is where Whatmore feels they will improve. Among their pack is Prosper Utseya, who has been included even though he is banned from bowling offspin because of an illegal action.
“Prosper has remodelled himself. He can bowl medium-pace, cutters, seam-up, wicket-to-wicket. He could be the difference between winnings and losing,” Whatmore said.
So could the captain, Elton Chigumbura. His first stint in charge came with a dip in form that would have led some to believe he was unsuited to leadership, but Chigumbura has grown up and is ready for the extra responsibility. Whatmore expects him to play a significant role, especially with the ball.
“He must contribute with the ball. He is a main cog in the bowling attack,” he said. “We also have Tinashe Panyangara, who knows where the off-stump is. He is not the quickest, but he looks like he is in control. Tendai Chatara has pace. And then there’s Mupariwa.”
If nothing else, he will be the man prowling the outfield, putting his body on the line for the ones he could let simply go by.