THE expression “out of the frying pan and into the fire” aptly describes the situation Zimbabwe cricket team faces ahead of their first tri-series encounter against the world’s number one ranked one-day international (ODI) side Australia at Harare Sports Club today.
After last week’s whitewash ODI series defeat to a South African side that had rested its premier bowlers, it will not get any easier for Zimbabwe against a fired-up Australian side.
The same top order batting line up that failed to click against a weakened South African attack missing Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel will have to quickly regroup and conjure a plan to cope against the world’s fastest bowler Mitchel Johnson.
National team coach Stephen Mangongo said while his players were relishing the opportunity of playing against Australia, his charges faced a mammoth task.
“It fantastic. It’s the best thing that has happened to our cricket to play the number one team. We are work in progress; we are learning. We believe that the best way to learn is when you play with the best teams. There’s no substitute for experience.
We are thrilled we feel honoured to be playing top class cricketers. That is the only way you can learn,” he said.
“The boys can’t wait to get out. They’re very excited. One thing that we have always mourned about is that we do not play enough cricket and enough hard games for us to develop and this is a perfect opportunity. Australia and South Africa do not come to Zimbabwe everyday so the guys are very keen to get out there and showcase their abilities.”
Mangongo said they needed to play out of their skins if they were to upstage their much-fancied opponents who go into today’s match without having played ODIs since their January series against England.
“Australia is the number one-ranked ODI side in the world. Whether they’ve been playing or not I’m sure they’ve prepared enough as an international side,” said Mangongo.
“We have to play out of our skins against the number one in the world. Rankings don’t lie, they’re number one and we’re number 10. We will have to play out of our skins.”
Australia captain Michael Clarke is a major doubt for today’s match after experiencing pain in his left hamstring during the team’s first training session on Friday.
The 33-year-old, however, told reporters during yesterday’s training session that he could feature as he was set to undergo a late fitness test.
“Hopefully I can have a full training session. I still have a lot of running and walking to do this afternoon and will probably have a fitness test to see how I pull up before tomorrow (today).
“I don’t think I’ll know how exactly I feel until I’ve had some physical stuff. They’ll probably give me until tomorrow to allow me maximum time to recover, but personally I’ll know if I’m ready after today’s (yesterday’s) training session,” he said.
Asked if Australia might tinker with their side ahead of today’s match, Clarke said they intended to win the tri-series and would look to field their strongest side.
“No, it’s about winning. I’d like to pick the best 11 for the opposition and conditions we’re playing to try and win every game we play in,” he said.
Clarke said they had plan B should the hosts prepare a slow wicket at Harare Sports Club to counter the visitors pace attack spearheaded by Mitchell.
“I don’t blame them if they do (prepare a slow wicket). We’ve got Nathan Lyon as our number one spinner and obviously Glen Maxwell has done a fantastic role for us in the shorter format of the game,” he said.
“Steve Smith can bowl some leg spin and hopefully I can bowl some few part-timers as well. I haven’t seen the wicket, but whatever is produced we’ve got a good squad to combat that.”
Australia will start the triangular series as the world’s highest-ranked ODI team with South Africa third and Zimbabwe languishing in 10th. Zimbabwe have only beaten Australia once in 28 ODIs with Duncan Fletcher engineering a famous 13-run victory at the 1983 World Cup.
Elton Chigumbura and Sean Williams will start the triangular series in decent form having top-scored for Zimbabwe in the three ODIs against South Africa in Bulawayo. Off-spinner John Nyumbu looks to be the hosts’ most dangerous man with the ball and will spearhead the spin bowling attack in the absence of Prosper Utseya.
Utseya was reportedly using suspected illegal bowling action during his side’s seven-wicket loss in the third and final ODI against South Africa.
Brendan Taylor surprisingly dropped for the final ODI against South Africa last week looks set to make his return to the side.
Seamer Tinashe Panyangara made his return against South Africa after being rested following the lone Test and could be joined by Tendai Chatara who was also rested after the Test match.