'Zimbabwe have point to prove' - Mangongo
Stephen Mangongo, the Zimbabwe assistant coach, has said his side have a point to prove in their upcoming Twenty20 tri-series against South Africa and Bangladesh despite the series not being granted official status as it falls outside the ICC Future Tours Programme.
"We are taking these as full-on, serious games," Mangongo told ESPNcricinfo. "We don't have many opportunities to play South Africa, so every opportunity we get to play them we've got a point to prove.
"We want to improve our cricket. We want the world to see that there are some good things happening in terms of cricket in Zimbabwe. So we are taking the games absolutely seriously, and giving it everything we've got. In the process, it also becomes a build-up for the T20 World Cup. It's also a huge incentive for the guys who perform, and who are on the borderlines trying to get into the side."
The South African squad is missing a clutch of its big stars as AB de Villiers, Jacques Kallis, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel have been rested. All four played extensively during the recent IPL and will be integral parts of South Africa's tour of England in July. Bangladesh will be without Shakib Al Hasan, who has asked to be rested.
Zimbabwe announced a 24-man training squad in May that included a couple of new faces in Zimbabwe Under-19 and Mountaineers batsman Kevin Kasuza and Mid West Rhinos seamer Richard Muzhange. Mountaineers fast bowler Tendai Chatara, who played a solitary T20I against India in 2010, has also been included in the preliminary group.
"Kevin Kasuza is one to watch," Mangongo said. "Amazing boy, amazing batsman, very talented. Then there's Tendai Chatara, from Mountaineers again. A tall, lanky bowler. He played one game for the national team, had a back problem and faded away a bit. He's back in the fold and he's bowling quick. These two youngsters should be looking for good things in the coming series."
Zimbabwe have not played since their tour of New Zealand in January and February. Their only other opportunity to prepare for the World Twenty20 in September will be a triangular A series against South Africa A and Sri Lanka A in July. Their scheduled hosting of Bangladesh in August was postponed because of maintenance work on the pitches in Harare and Bulawayo.
Prior to their trip to New Zealand, Zimbabwe had been through an unusually busy spell, having hosted Bangladesh, Pakistan and New Zealand in the midst of the domestic season. Mangongo suggested that a break from cricket had actually been required, allowing several players - such as Chris Mpofu, who was sidelined by a lower back injury last season - to recover from injuries, and also allowing the cricketers to spend time with their families at home.
"Basically it came from Alan Butcher and the whole technical department that after having played non-stop cricket, there was a need to rejuvenate the bodies," Mangongo said. "Give the guys time off. Some of the married guys, they want to be with their families. Allow them time and space. Allow them to recover from niggles.
"Then from there on, those who feel that they want to continue playing the game, provided they're not injured, please with pleasure go ahead and play. So it was a mixture of both. And obviously you find that there are some guys like Hamilton [Masakadza] who just eat and drink cricket every day. He rested for one week, or two weeks, and then he was back and playing club cricket again. So, that's good too."
The tri-series begins on June 17 with Zimbabwe's match against Bangladesh at Harare Sports Club.
Liam Brickhill is a former assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo