'Strict' Mangongo wants Zimbabwe turnaround
On first meeting, Zimbabwe interim coach Stephen Mangongo appears mild-mannered, friendly and even warm. On interrogation, his stern side comes out.
It is not abrupt, nasty or cold. It is just to the point. Harsh but true. Something Zimbabwe Cricket needs as it enters its first home series since late 2011.
The team, made up of many of the same players that staged a successful comeback to Test cricket, has taken some severe knocks. They have been defeated, but worse than that, they have been humiliated and Mangongo takes the latter personally. The heavy losses in New Zealand and the first-round exit from the World T20 were difficult to digest, but the West Indies tour caused an acid reflux that the caretaker coach found nauseating.
"We want to forget it as soon as we can. It was an absolute disaster, honestly," he spewed. "We thought we could compete but we didn't. We learnt some harsh lessons there. Our technique against spin was exposed and it's an area of great concern." Shane Shillingford sliced through Zimbabwe with the ease of a butcher and Mangongo's first concern is to ensure Bangladesh's slew of spinners do not do the same thing.
"If you want to play Test cricket you need to bat over a period of time. Spin is part of Test cricket and you can't hide away from it. Coming from West Indies [after] having that terrible tour, obviously all of us needed to work on our game, and the guys have been working hard. They want to make sure they are correct and rectify[ing] things."
Instead of spin, problems have weaved their way into Zimbabwe's preparation. They lost two days of training because of a dispute between the non-centrally contracted players and the board. Out of 14 days, Mangongo described that as "massive."
But they gained hurt. Not only the pain of the recent performances, but the recurring trend of the board and the players tussling over middle ground and administrative issues mirrored in the morale of the team. Mangongo said that could only serve as motivation. "There is self-drive. They are professional cricketers. You don't want to get out there and keep getting hammered every game, so there is that drive to come and show people that we can play, that we belong at Test level."
Some of the squad have been fingered as not having a place among the game's elite and Mangongo acknowledges that. He told local media he would ring in changes for the Bangladesh series to address that. A few will be injury enforced - Chris Mpofu (back), Tino Mawoyo (groin) and Regis Chakabva (thumb) have been ruled out of the Tests. Others will be tactical - two spinners instead of three seamers for example.
Mangongo does not have much more than the training squad to choose from, because a lot of the country's franchise cricketers, such as Charles Coventry, have gone overseas to make a living. He has warned the old guard that their places are not guaranteed. "I was embarrassed by the performance in the West Indies, and as far as I'm concerned if people play like that and they don't believe, then they mustn't be on the international stage.
"There's no one reason why we shouldn't try the next bloke. International sport is hard, it's tough, but you must go out there and do your bit and at least be competitive. Otherwise you shouldn't be there. We've got 75 professional cricketers in Zimbabwe, so I don't believe we should just be looking at one group of special people. It's actually the time to expose more guys because you never know who could be the next talent. Some guys have had their chances and they haven't done well. Nobody has a right to play."
And nobody has a right to win either. That's why Zimbabwe are so determined to show they are better than what the last year and a bit have illustrated, and that the small glimpses of hope that shone through in August 2011 were not just mirages.
"It's key for us to make sure that we compete, and in our home conditions, play good cricket, and hopefully get a positive result. It's absolutely important for us to remain in the international arena and for people to respect us, and to be dignified we need to be beating guys like Bangladesh. Otherwise people will take us for a joke," Mangongo said.
Some already do and all Zimbabwe can try is to change their minds with actions, not words. Mangongo has given himself the responsibility of overseeing that. "I'm very strict. I call a spade a spade. I want the job to be done and done properly, otherwise we shouldn't be here. That's me. That's how I operate." Now the team have to do the same.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent