New Zealand can be beaten - Butcher
Zimbabwe have the courage and confidence to compete with and beat New Zealand in the one-off Test in Napier starting on January 26, according to their head coach Alan Butcher. Since making their return to Test cricket in August last year, Butcher said the team had grown significantly from a mental perspective and are ready for their first challenge away from home in the new era.
Zimbabwe endured the worst period in their cricketing history during six years of self-imposed exile from the longest form of the game. Defeats, disunity and disappointment abounded before they were able to make a commitment to rebuilding in 2010. Zimbabwe were ready for Test cricket again in August 2011 and beat Bangladesh in their comeback match in Harare. They played three series, all one-off Tests, in as many months and lost to Pakistan and New Zealand.
Their defeat to New Zealand was by a margin of only 34 runs. Had they had managed to score those runs, they would have achieved a record Zimbabwean run chase. Although they didn't, Butcher saluted the team's efforts in just their third Test back. "People didn't give us much of a chance so I was proud that we got that close," he told ESPNcricinfo on the eve of Zimbabwe's departure for New Zealand. "But I was also disappointed. We deserved to win it and to get that close and lose was disappointing."
The match highlighted one of Zimbabwe's chief concerns on re-entering Test cricket: the inferiority complex that plagues so-called minnows, including Bangladesh. Throughout his tenure, Butcher has talked about developing Zimbabwe's sense of self-belief and self-assuredness and as they embark on their first overseas tour as a readmitted Test nation, he says they have made progress. The results against New Zealand, which also included a record ODI chase by Zimbabwe, have helped.
"I hope that the confidence we showed in those two matches will continue," Butcher said. "In a lot of areas we showed that New Zealand can be beaten. What was really pleasing is that we did not have a bad day in the Test match, we played good cricket on all five days. And to win a one-dayer of that magnitude gave us a big boost. When we get into winning positions we have to be able to finish it off. The more times you get into a winning position, the more times you believe you can win."
One of the chief protagonists in getting Zimbabwe into situations where victory is a possibility is their captain Brendan Taylor. He scored back to back centuries in the ODIs against New Zealand and a hundred in the second innings of the Test. Taylor was offered a contract with Wellington to play in the HRV Cup as reward for his talents.
Butcher said Taylor's early experience of the New Zealand stint will help his leadership role and the team as a whole. "It's been good to have him there, getting some inside information and insights on the conditions and a few of the players," Butcher said. "And he has been fairly successful, which is a great feather in his cap." Taylor was among the top 10 leading run-scorers in the Twenty20 tournament.
The tour will also give some of Zimbabwe's inexperienced Test players, particularly the bowlers, a taste of the big time. With senior seamer Chris Mpofu ruled out with a lower back injury, the third seamer's spot is vacant. "[Kyle] Jarvis and [Brian] Vitori will be vital for us with the new ball but I would like to see one of Keegan Meth or Shingarai Masakadza do well in the third seamer's spot," Butcher said. "And both of them can hold a bat as well.
"Graeme Cremer will also be interesting to watch. He may not get to play this time but it will be nice to see how an attacking spinner progresses." Cremer has not been part of Zimbabwe's comeback after a long recovery from a knee injury and may have to sit out for the experienced Ray Price if Zimbabwe opt for a safety-first approach. He is not in the ODI squad and will return to Zimbabwe, to be replaced by Prosper Utseya.
From a batting perspective, Butcher said he would like to see "a couple of the fringe players" step up. "Guys like Forster Mutizwa and Regis Chakabva have good records in domestic cricket and it will be nice to see them do well. Then we will be well stocked."
Butcher said he would have loved to have had opening batsman Vusi Sibanda as part of the touring party but respected the decision of the cricket committee to exclude him. Sibanda was declared ineligible for national selection after choosing to play grade cricket in Australia and declining a Zimbabwe Cricket contract at the start of the season. He has since returned to Zimbabwe and is currently on a pay-as-you-play arrangement with the Mid-West Rhinos, which could turn into a full-time contract that will qualify him for national selection again.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent