Bangladesh in Zimbabwe 2013 April 30, 2013

Lack of confidence impeding Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe will soon have to move away from the safety of bits and pieces players and towards specialists. That can only happen if their top-order strengthens and they are can unearth some depth

Brendan Taylor said a worrying thing after Zimbabwe lost a Test against Bangladesh for the first time at home to share the series. He deemed it "not the end of the world," which was fair enough, but he also said he felt the team had progressed overall.

Their sizeable win in the first Test may have partly explained his assessment but their heavy defeat in the second should have prevented him from settling on praise instead of self-examination. From the position they were in, after dominating the first Test, against an opposition that had been spooked into thinking conditions would not suit them, Zimbabwe should not have shared the series.

They should not have lost the second Test either and it seemed a lack of confidence rather than inadequate skills accounted for their defeat. Inexperienced teams are capable of pulling off surprises when they are on top but they struggle to recover when they are against the tide because they often do not believe in themselves enough.

Zimbabwe are a prime example. In the first Test, Taylor's century and solidifying partnerships with Malcolm Waller and Graeme Cremer gave them the advantage. When Kyle Jarvis began tearing through Bangladesh, they did not look back. In the second Test, when Bangladesh put on 300 on day one, Zimbabwe were at a disadvantage. From there, they could not look up.

Sometimes only conviction can change that. Zimbabwe play too infrequently and are too used to being beaten to have built up any of that. They suffer from the small-country syndrome and that may only change when they have the players who can force that turnaround.

For that reason, it may be worth them rethinking their policy of allrounders versus specialists. In a bid to lengthen their batting line-up in this series, Zimbabwe opted for lower-order allrounders like Shingi Masakadza, Keegan Meth and Cremer instead of out and out bowlers like Tendai Chatara, Brian Vitori and Prosper Utseya or Ray Price.

In Masakadza's and Meth's case, it turned out to be the right decisions because they contributed with the bat and had success in their primary role with the ball. In Cremer's case it may not have. Although he was also responsible for lengthening the batting order, his bowling in the second Test was expensive and lacked penetration. A holding spinner may have worked better.

Zimbabwe will soon have to move away from the safety of players who can do a little bit of everything and towards those who do their main task very well. That can only happen if their top-order strengthens and they are can unearth some depth to create competition for places.

At the moment, Zimbabwe centrally contract 10 players and the franchises take care of the rest. The non-centrally contracted players only have deals for a seven-month season and are left without security over how they will earn money in the winter

Before the series started, Stephen Mangongo, the interim coach, proudly declared that Zimbabwe had 75 professional cricketers (15 from each of the five franchises) to choose a national squad from. He didn't mention that only included one opening batsman. Vusi Sibanda had to make do with makeshift partners in both Tests because Tino Mawoyo was injured and Zimbabwe did not seem to have anyone else who could do the job.

Timycen Maruma and Regis Chakabva were used in that position and while both showed some promise, it was not enough. Mawoyo will likely return to the role when fit but the lack of other options should worry Zimbabwe. The only solution will be to go on a scouting mission to each franchise, examine the prospects there and monitor their progress.

Their middle order and bowling stocks seem better supplied but holding on to players has proved difficult because of Zimbabwe's precarious financial situation which may improve with a healthy dose of transparency all-round.

At the moment, Zimbabwe centrally contract 10 players and the franchises take care of the rest. The non-centrally contracted players only have deals for a seven-month season and are left without security over how they will earn money in the winter. This year, ZC introduced winter contracts but the amounts being paid were too little for every player they wanted to retain to accept and they lost some of their men to club cricket gigs overseas.

It was Craig Ervine this time, but it could be anyone else next year. Ensuring there is enough money to run the game is proving tough for Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) but they do themselves few favours through some of their smoke and mirror policies that create and exacerbate uncertainty.

A glaring example was available during this series. ZC refused to comment on the situation with their new coach, Andy Waller, who was present at the ground for most of both matches. He has quit his job in England and he would not have done that to take a holiday so it was obvious why he was there.

ESPNcricinfo understands that Waller has a signed contract to take over as head coach from May 1. ZC could not confirm this, nor explain the reason for him being in the country and in the stadium.

Instead, they continued to play a charade that the board will announce the new coach in due course because they did not want to detract from the ongoing series. What they are waiting for, no-one knows.

After the first Test, Mangongo was asked by one of the members of the local media if he thought the victory would increase his chances of getting the job full time. He swerved past the question and went on to discuss his experience as a coach and his commitment to ensuring the players develop and give of their best.

That will be difficult for them to do when they are not being told the truth about things like who is taking over as their coach and why. It also makes one wonder what else don't they know. Two years ago, Tatenda Taibu revealed they were always unsure of when they could expect payment. Before this tour, a player who did not want to be named, said nothing had changed in that regard, salaries often came late or not at all and questions around them go unanswered.

With that on their minds, it's hardly surprising the players lack faith in the structures they are working in. That has reflected on the playing field. Zimbabwe are a talented crop who have made some strides since their Test comeback in 2011.

They have held on to the core group and players like Kyle Jarvis, Taylor and Hamilton Masakadza have become better. They have found some youngsters with potential and seem to have nurtured them somewhat, like Shingi Masakadza. They have not found the binding ingredient that can marry those individuals into a team that regards itself as one that can win. Real progress will be achieved the day that is not an ideal or a dream but something Zimbabwe can turn into reality, more often than they do now.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments