Zimbabwe in New Zealand 2011-12 February 14, 2012

Time for Zimbabwe to weigh up season of contrasts

Zimbabwe need to give the tour of New Zealand context and look at the little things, which are overshadowed by the magnitude of defeat
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There is no direct flight between Auckland and Harare. The Zimbabwe team probably wishes there was, for they will now have to spend hours in Perth and more hours in Johannesburg. Ample time to reflect on the tour of New Zealand, where they were not only whitewashed in every format but also stripped bare.

Only four months ago Zimbabwe had successfully chased 329 in an ODI against New Zealand, and came within 34 runs of winning a Test against them. Those heartening performances, however, were in Bulawayo. Their six-week, seven-match tour of New Zealand could not have been worse.

Zimbabwe were bowled out twice in a day in the Test, losing by an innings and 301 runs in Napier. They conceded more than 370 in two out of three ODIs, losing each by an increasing margin, and scored more than 200 only once. They were also blanked out in the two Twenty20s, even though they showed some fight in the shortest format. Zimbabwe's senior players did not perform and the pressure that created caused the juniors to buckle. Their unit was dismantled piece by piece so much so that all the workhorses and all the trying men couldn't put Brendan Taylor's side together again.

There are good reasons for Zimbabwe's blowout. They don't tour often, especially not down under. Zimbabwe were last in New Zealand ten years ago. This was a maiden tour for most of the current players and to visit a place that is significantly different to anywhere else in the cricketing world was a shock.

The weather in New Zealand is colder and more temperamental than in other place, even in summer, and adjusting to it can be a challenge. Besides the discomfort it causes, it also affects playing conditions. On some days batsmen have more seam and swing to contend with, on others bowlers have to fight a stiff breeze.

The elements alone did not make Zimbabwe's stay unpleasant. The hosts' onslaught was ruthless and they did not relent even after series were won and their dominance left undisputed. Martin Guptill did not stop scoring runs even after suffering a groin injury, and New Zealand's bowling attack, whatever the combination, did not stop taking wickets. Having made their Test return and begun the 2011-12 season with promise, Zimbabwe ended it annihilated.

"Ah, it wasn't great," Alistair Campbell, the chairman of the cricket committee and former Zimbabwe captain, said. It is a statement that will be in contention for understatement of the year, especially for its tone, one of casualness despite the serious subject.

Campbell, however, is not taking Zimbabwe's struggles lightly, having experienced the same as a player. "We have to be honest, even when I was playing, we always battled with consistency," he said. "We haven't found a formula to be consistent, home or away, yet. Yes, those margins of defeat were too big and when you have results like that, questions have to be asked. But we have to be asking them with the intention to make sure our cricket is on the right path."

That means giving the tour of New Zealand context and looking at the little things, which are overshadowed by the magnitude of defeat. "We have to review the season as a whole, and as a whole we haven't had a bad series," Campbell said. Zimbabwe started the summer by beating Bangladesh in a one-off Test and an ODI series, before losing to Pakistan and New Zealand despite a strong showing in the Tests. All those results were at home.

Their unit was dismantled piece by piece so much so that all the workhorses and all the trying men couldn't put Brendan Taylor's side together again.

Away from home, Zimbabwe could not compete but Campbell said that was no different to the current trend in world cricket. "We have to put this in perspective, a lot of teams have struggled away from home. India have also lost Tests by an innings and plenty. Add England [in UAE] and Sri Lanka [in South Africa] to that list and Campbell's argument does not appear too flimsy.

Zimbabwe also have some positives from the New Zealand experience. Shingi Masakadza was the joint-highest wicket-taker in the ODIs, with five scalps, followed by Kyle Jarvis and Prosper Utseya on four. Hamilton Masakadza scored half-centuries in both the Twenty20s and Jarvis shared the top-bowler ranking in that series, earning himself a temporary contract with the Central Stags, a New Zealand domestic team. "We finished quite well," Campbell said. "It would have been easy to give up at that point."

Those few positives do not mask the problems, though. "On tour, you need your senior players to front up and that did not happen," Campbell said. Zimbabwe were also without two of their most experienced players: Chris Mpofu had a lower-back injury and Vusi Sibanda was ineligible after a grade-cricket stint in Australia. Mpofu has recovered, and Sibanda has returned and recommitted to Zimbabwe and will be available for the next series.

Even without them, Zimbabwe had a fair amount of experience but nothing to show for it. "The batsmen were found wanting technically. They were not able to cope with seam and swing," Campbell said. "And the bowlers could not find the right lengths." The fielding was awful as well.

One of the most disappointing players was left-arm fast bowler Brian Vitori, who struggled to build on his positive start in international cricket. "There were a lot of expectations on Brian," Campbell said. "He probably got a wake-up call about what is needed to play international cricket."

The experience of players like Vitori is what Campbell hopes will give Zimbabwe motivation to improve. "It's going to hurt. When they come home, they'll walk into a pub and they'll overhear people saying, 'Zimbabwe were rubbish'," he said. "And they won't want to hear that. They will say to themselves, 'I don't want to be called rubbish', and they will go out next time to make sure it doesn't happen again."

The opportunity to do that will only come later in the year. Zimbabwe host South Africa for five Twenty20 matches in June, an exercise that seems nothing more than big brother trying to beat up a little one. They also have some A tours planned, before Bangladesh visit in August.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nduru on February 16, 2012, 6:26 GMT

    @Andrew Brighton. Now that's fair comment! You were well within your rights to criticise the poor all round performance of the team. Heck, it was a very painful thing for me to watch the abject batting, the ridiculous fielding and the below par bowling. I just wish people would keep their comments constructive (like you have) and stay away from what is a very elitist attitude from colonial times - that only a few 'top dogs' should play each other while the 'rabble' must be kept out. Even the big teams have abject days and series, as we've just seen with England in the tests, so its a very bad form of hipocracy to jump on Zim when they have a bad series.

  • redneck on February 16, 2012, 0:45 GMT

    zimbabwes first tour since coming back to the fold was always going to go the way it went. nz is a seamers tour and zimbabwe have a fleet of handy spinners that have got alot of experience but very young and raw quicks. hopefully they have learnt a thing or 2 and come back stronger from the lessons gained while in nz. i strongly believe zimbabwe belong in the test playing nations, just dont write them off after a forign tour to a very different country to where they are used to playing!

  • dummy4fb on February 15, 2012, 23:14 GMT

    @Nduru. I couldn't agree more! I get absolutely sick and tired of hearing so and so shouldn't play test cricket blah blah blah. 18 months ago people were saying NZ weren't good enough to play test cricket, I've heard it said about Sri Lanka, the WIs and Pakistan as well and it is just pathetic. Cricket, like all sports, are for the players and fans not the elite few. I've already posted on here critising the Zim team for their feilding and mental frailty and I stand by that, but the last thing I want to see is them disappear from the internatiional scene. I want them to improve, I want them to enjoy their cricket and I want them to play in a fashion that they can be proud of win, lose or draw.

  • Nduru on February 15, 2012, 12:34 GMT

    @NAP73 and @Shongololo, your comments are unfair and deliberately ignore all the good work Zim did in the first three test matches, where they competed pound for pound against two of the most imporoved teams in test cricket (Pak & NZ). Zim's return was never going to see sudden miracles where they would beat higher ranked teams overnight. Yes, its sad to see the team go through such a bad patch, but why not try reading the article first and understanding the broader context before commenting. Stick to supporting your own sides please. And @Shongololo, don't be surprised if your precious SA team get few shocks in NZ.

  • dummy4fb on February 15, 2012, 11:10 GMT

    absolutely pathetic performance....... was xpectin a lot more

  • Nduru on February 15, 2012, 8:46 GMT

    Thanks for putting this tour in context Firdose - the season needs to be looked at as a whole with the fairly good first three quarters balanced against this bad last quarter. I noticed that Zimbabwe often take a few games to 'warm up' against bigger teams and do better towards the end. My question is why were they not given more of a chance to adapt to NZ conditions before the test? Remember, the Zim players were coming off a 3 month break from international cricket and things were very quiet domestically over Christmas. So, along with missing Mpofu and Sibanda they also lacked match practice and if they had played the ODIs and T20s first, they would have had a much better showing in the test. I blame those who plan tours for this - there needs to be better planning so players can adapt, especially before tests. Obviously the NZ players in their own conditions and coming off their T20 competition were in top form, so the result was a foregone conclusion.

  • Doogius on February 15, 2012, 6:41 GMT

    I think you need to put it into a little perspective. NZ came off a great showing in Oz and with a little luck, could have won the series. If Oz had played NZ in NZ straight away, I doubt Oz would have won the series. Bad luck to run into a team who IMV is on the up (bracewell is world class), at home, when there pumped after beating the old enemy. I'm not surprised the poor Zims got a little shellshocked.

  • dummy4fb on February 15, 2012, 6:27 GMT

    zimbabwe should change there team...get craig ervine,gary ballance,glen querl,roland bernade,visu sibanda,nathan wallar into the team

  • Dashgar on February 15, 2012, 6:02 GMT

    As bad as Zimbabwe were it is good to see that Campbell is still positive. The last thing you want after a tour like this is to see the core of the team stripped away. We know they played badly but we also know they can play much better. NZ is a tough place to tour, Australia is the only team that really do well there consistently even when NZ are going badly, and right now they are flying. Zimbabwe need to go home and analyse every part of their game and also get back into First Class cricket and build back their form. They won't have a tour worse than this for a long time, and it was their first Test tour in 10 years.

  • thejusjosephjose on February 15, 2012, 3:02 GMT

    Zimbabwe shouldn't be crestfallen after the dismal tour.To quote Sylvester Stallone:"One minute you are feeling like everything is going your way.Like you are ready to climb the highest mountain.Headed for the top of the world.But in the game of life you never know.You train for years to get a piece of personal glory or a chance to stand toe to toe with your peers and say, Here I am. Take your best shot.Then the contest begins and BANG!!! you're down for the count.It's not your day. You tried your best. But was it really your best?SO DO YOU GO HOME WITH A BROKEN HEART?OR DO YOU GET UP SMARTER, WISER ANS BETTER PREPARED THAN EVER BEFORE?IT'S A NEW DAY ...A NEW SEASON..A NEW YOU!!!" Yes Zimbabwe must get up smarter wiser and better prepared...and prove that you are not to be ignored.

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