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Utseya confident of beating big teams

Firdose Moonda in Chennai

February 11, 2011

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Ray Price at Zimbabwe's press conference, Chennai, February 11, 2011
Zimbabwe left-arm spinner Ray Price is looking for consistency from his team © Getty Images

It's a classic clash of little brother versus big brother when South Africa play Zimbabwe in their warm-up match at the MA Chidambaram Stadium on Saturday. It usually is when these two sides play each other and the predictable usually happens. Usually.

There have been two exceptions, both more than a decade ago, one of them in the 1999 World Cup. But, Prosper Utseya, the Zimbabwe offspinner, believes there's no reason his team can't win on Saturday, even though the result in a warm-up match is usually secondary to individual performances. "The attitude towards playing big teams has changed," he said. "We are now paying with the belief that we can beat those guys."

Zimbabwe know they are coming to this World Cup with not much expectation, but sneaking in under the radar may be good for what they hope to achieve in the subcontinent. After many false starts to a better Zimbabwean cricket landscape, things finally seem to be changing for the better, with the introduction of the franchise system leading to the professionalisation of players on the domestic circuit. Now, that needs to translate into success on the international stage. "To justify what's been happening, we need to do things on the field," Utseya said.

That has started to happen in the last couple of years, with Zimbabwe winning seven out of 20 matches since January 2010, and people's interest in the national cricket side is reigniting, something Graeme Cremer, the Zimbabwe legspinner, has noticed. "I think about 70% more people have become interested in us over the last year or so," Cremer said. "Before we left for the World Cup, people were very excited and wanted us to do well."

Prior to coming to the subcontinent, Zimbabwe spent some time training in Dubai, where they played two warm-up matches, against the Netherlands and Kenya, and won both. Those victories were important for the team, because as left-arm spinner Ray Price explained, it gives them a platform on which to build. "In the past, we've won a few games on the trot and then we've lost some, so there was never a period where we won consistently," Price said. "We will use these warm-up games to be more consistent."

Although the result is important to Zimbabwe, they, like other teams, want to use the games to "find the right combinations," according to Utseya. "We are trying different things in terms of our opening batting and bowling partnerships." Zimbabwe's batting conundrum, in particular, is going to be tricky because they lost experienced batsman Sean Ervine, who decided to retain his British citizenship rather than represent Zimbabwe, as well as his replacement Tino Mawoyo through injury.

It would take a supreme effort to carry on the winning streak because South Africa are a powerful side, but, if Jacques Kallis is rested as Graeme Smith indicated he might be, then Zimbabwe may sense a real chance to expose the fragility South Africa's middle and lower order showed in the recent series against India.

The No. 6 and 7 batting spots will be the ones under the most scrutiny from South African critics. Colin Ingram is expected to bat at No. 7, and if Kallis does not play, then Morne van Wyk could find himself in the No. 3 position. Because there will be thirteen players allowed to participate in the warm-up match, it is likely that Faf du Plessis will get to bat in the lower order as well.

What will be particularly interesting to watch will be South Africa's spin selection. Will they finally unleash Imran Tahir? The Pakistan-born legspinner was included in South Africa's squad to play India in January but was held back as a secret weapon for the World Cup. He has not had any match time and, since South Africa are in a different group from Zimbabwe, it may the perfect opportunity to give him a run. It looks likely that Wayne Parnell will be the man to sit out, which means all the spinners (frontline and part-time) will play, as well as Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Lonwabo Tsotsobe.

Zimbabwe have no such seam trio to speak of, but they will call on their clutch of spinners. Zimbabwe wicketkeeper Tatenda Taibu cites Zimbabwe's spinners as their biggest asset, calling Price and Utseya "world-class." That may well be the element that will give the little brothers a chance as the countdown to the World Cup reaches its last few days.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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Comments: 3 
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Posted by kas on (February 12, 2011, 0:35 GMT)

I really like this Zim team, they are good and can play well in the subcont. All the best Zim team.

Posted by Lalith on (February 11, 2011, 16:30 GMT)

I am sure ZIM will surprise few teams and will be in QF

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 11, 2011, 14:39 GMT)

Gud luk Zim...Ervine shud hav played for his country...hope u guys create upsets and move to the quarters...best wishes frm BD

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