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January 31, 2012
Zimbabwe's innings and 301-run defeat in their one-off Test against New Zealand represents, in numerical terms, the massive gulf between them and the next tier of the Test playing world. In more literal ones, it symbolises a significant stride backward for a nation that made a respectable comeback to Test cricket last year.
Having seemingly built up the ability to compete and even sometimes win, their progress was smashed to smithereens on a single day. But, take into account that it was their maiden voyage from home since their return to the Test fold and the hard edges of how badly they performed are somewhat softened. "For most of us, it's our first tour in New Zealand but as professionals we are expected to adapt," Regis Chakabva told ESPNcricinfo. "It would have been disappointing to lose like that, no matter what conditions we played in."
Chakabva is the only Zimbabwe batsmen who could walk away from the match claiming to understand New Zealand's pitches. His 63 in the second innings was the highest score and most accomplished performance in an otherwise abysmal Zimbabwe showing. In his typically unassuming style, Chakabva has not read too much into the effort and given the result, he probably can't.
"All our batsmen are good players, it just didn't happen for them on the day," he said. "I didn't do too much differently or make too many adjustments; I just tried to stick around as long as possible. Once the ball got older it was easier, it was a good batting pitch."
If there was an area Chakabva led the way in, it was mindset. Instead of panic, even though he walked in to bat with the score on 12 for 5, he showed rare grit, something Alan Butcher has tried to develop in his players since he took over as coach. Butcher has long lamented that Zimbabwe are quick to get spooked. Tell them the pitch will be difficult to bat on and they will struggle with shot selection, tell them someone is a good bowler and they will crumble at the sight of him, tell them they have to put in a respectable performance away from home and the pressure will cause them to melt.
It seemed to be the case in Napier but Chakabva said the squad were not affected by outside influences. Even though they were aware of what was expected of them, they tried to create an environment of calm in the lead up to the match. "We weren't under that much pressure to do well, we knew it wouldn't be easy but we were aware of the situation and what we needed to," he said, following it up with a simple enough explanation for what went wrong. "We just didn't do well."
With Chris Martin doing most of the demolition job, it would appear that Zimbabwe were equally outdone by a quality fast bowler as they were by conditions that suited him. Chakabva said that was not the case.
Four seamers, he said, were not the problem. "I wouldn't say they have a fearsome attack, they are very good but not fearsome." Neither was the strip. "The wicket had more grass than usual but we have a ground at Harare, the country club, which is also bowler friendly, with more bounce. We have seen pitches like this before."
Zimbabwe have had five days to prepare for the limited-overs leg of the series, instead of three, and Chakabva said they have worked on everything from "one-day cricketing skills" to "getting our minds ready".
Far from sulking, Chakabva said they are "enjoying" the trip. While taking in the sights and sounds of a place most of them have never been to before, they have also been reminded that they still have a job to do and Chakabva said they will do it properly. "We will be more competitive, we are working hard and we want to represent our country well. Like Brendan Taylor said, we want to show the world we can play."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
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