We're on the right path - Butcher
Zimbabwe's victory in the unofficial Twenty20 tri-series, which included a stunning nine-wicket win over South Africa in the final, is an indication that they are "on the right path" according to their coach Alan Butcher.
Zimbabwean cricket started its upward trajectory since they made their Test comeback against Bangladesh last August but hit choppy waters soon after. Tough series against Pakistan and New Zealand set them back but their coup in this competition is an affirmation for Butcher that improvements have been made.
"This is a real sign that we are on the right track," Butcher told ESPNcricinfo. "It can sometimes get hard to convince people that things are going well when we don't get the results so this has been really good from that perspective." Since making their Test comeback with a victory over Bangladesh, Zimbabwe have lost to Pakistan and New Zealand in all formats, the latter both home and away.
Their 2012 schedule is sparse, with no cricket from January until the World T20 in September. The tri-series was organised at the request of South Africa coach Gary Kirsten, who wanted to give his team match practice and a chance to experiment ahead of the World T20. It was initially supposed to be a bilateral five-match series played over five days. But, after Bangladesh had their tour to Pakistan postponed, they requested to join in. Their participation brought with it television coverage which gave the series a far higher profile, something Butcher said will add to the publicity of his team's showing, albeit in a series of practice matches.
"It didn't matter that it was unofficial, we took it very seriously," Butcher said. "We had training camps since the beginning of May and we worked very hard for this, so I'm pretty pleased with the way it turned out. The guys worked well as a unit."
The coach had a few special words of praise for one of his stand-out charges. Hamilton Masakadza was named man of the series after finishing as the tournament's top run-scorer with 267 runs at 66.75 and notching up four half-centuries in five matches. He also scored a hundred in the tour match against Bangladesh and is enjoying what some like Zimbabwe cricket committee chair Alistair Campbell, have called the form of his life.
"I am very pleased for Hamilton. He had his problems and he was even left out of the side but he has worked on them," Butcher said, referring to Masakadza's exclusion from the 2011 World Cup squad. "He had an outstanding tournament and he deserved this."
Masakadza's unbeaten 58 and Brendan Taylor's 59 not out took Zimbabwe to a comfortable win in the final, but Zimbabwe gained the advantage first-up when their bowlers pinned South Africa down to 146 for 6. "We had a good start, which helped, but generally all the bowlers have worked well as a unit," Butcher said. South Africa were 6 for 2 in the second over and had lost both their openers, Richard Levi and Hashim Amla.
Chris Mpofu was the joint leading wicket-taker in the tournament, with seven wickets and an average of 16.14. He showed good ability on a familiar surface to mix up pace with cutters and performed the role of the senior seamer that he is. Mpofu said he benefitted from being pushed by youngsters like Kyle Jarvis and now has another pace bowler to contend with as well.
Richard Muzhange was the find of the tournament. He bowled with control and executed the yorker with perfection, especially at the death of an innings. Jason Gillespie, who coached Muzhange at the Mid-West Rhinos last season, identified him as a future star and Butcher could not be more pleased with what they have found. "He is definitely one for the future. He showed great composure and that he is willing to learn."
That is quality that could be associated with almost all of the Zimbabwe side. They have found that knowledge of what to do in certain conditions and how to play in certain situations has made them a more competitive team and Butcher said it has also had an influence on their mindsets. "The players are growing in confidence and self-belief. Hopefully, we will take that with us into the World T20."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent