Coaxing Zimbabwe's batsmen out of their comfort zones is foremost in the mind of their batting coach Lance Klusener as he looks to prepare them for their two-Test series against New Zealand. Klusener is currently back home in South Africa but will join up with the Zimbabwean squad later this month and hopes to see the senior members of the line-up step up.
"It's about whether they really want to challenge themselves and get better or if they are happy to just bumble along; it's about coming out of comfort zones," Klusener told ESPNcricinfo. "They can achieve better if they put themselves out there more. Obviously the more you put yourself out, the more risk there is, so there is also that balance [is needed] but I think they are getting there."
The reluctance to bat aggressively is something former Zimbabwe coach Alan Butcher alluded to in his book The Good Murungu in which he recalled an incident with a senior Zimbabwean batsman who described his role as being to "make sure I don't lose my wicket" rather than to score runs. More recently, the effects of that conservatism have begun to bleed into performance.
In last month's limited-overs series against India, Zimbabwe were bowled out for totals under 200 in all three ODIs and only scored more than 150 once. Vusi Sibanda was the only Zimbabwean batsman to score a half-century in the ODIs. They punched a little harder in the first T20, where they notched up 170 for 6 thanks largely to Elton Chigumbura's 26-ball 54, but their other scores of 99 for 9 and 135 for 6 could not sustain that momentum.
Still, Klusener was heartened to see the improvement as the series progressed. "It was good to see them take the last T20 close," Klusener said, referring to a three-run defeat which cost Zimbabwe the series. "The one thing with Zimbabwe is that you can always expect a fight. They now that if they fight and they lose, that's okay."
At the same time he is concerned about a lack of depth that sees the same names crop up as the country's main performers. "They have a small pool of players and so they have to make the best of what they've got. It's one of their challenges and they want to try and fix it, but whether they can do that from the top down is another story."
One of the ways of grooming more players for higher honours are tours like the ongoing one between South Africa A and Zimbabwe A, in which some of Zimbabwe's fringe players have an opportunity to prove themselves. Opening batsman Brain Chari made full use of his and scored 98 in his first outing in the series. It's players that like who Klusener is hoping to work with and teach the no-fear mentality.
Klusener has someone to help him in that approach: Makhaya Ntini. Although Ntini has not been confirmed as permanent coach after he was promoted to the interim role for the India series, it is expected Ntini will continue to be in charge for the New Zealand series. Ntini remained in Zimbabwe after the India series and has been working with the players throughout.
Klusener believes Ntini is making a difference and it won't take long for it to show. "Makhaya is energetic and passionate and adds value. He has been very good for Zimbabwe. He trains with the guys. He gets to know them. He doesn't lack for ideas and between us - we are a team - we have a lot of ideas. It's just about getting the guys to buy into the ideas we have."
Klusener will be back in Zimbabwe to resume that process towards the ends of July. He will work with the team during the two Tests before heading to the Tamil Nadu Premier League in India, where he is coaching the Lyca Kovai Kings. He expects to be back in Zimbabwe when they play again towards the end of 2016.