Zimbabwe v India, 3rd ODI, Harare July 27, 2013

Inexperience overwhelms Zimbabwe's preparation

The dearth of international matches means Zimbabwe spend a considerable amount of time practising. But their inexperience shows during matches, when their skills seem to desert them
  shares 20

The Zimbabwe squad have spent the last ten weeks doing very little else besides getting fit, bowling, batting and catching cricket balls. How many catches must each fielder have held in that time? How many balls must each batsman have hit, or a bowler bowled? Plenty, no doubt. Yet, when it matters, catches are dropped. Batsmen's shots evaporate. Bowlers over-step at crucial times. Why?

There was a point during Friday's match when it seemed that, despite the costly errors of the morning, Zimbabwe's batsmen had put the Indian bowlers under pressure and put their in a position from which they should win. At the end of the 20th over, Zimbabwe were 109 for 1. Vusi Sibanda raced to fifty, Dinesh Karthik had just missed a stumping, and, to end the over, Hamilton Masakadza had spanked a rank full toss from Amit Mishra almost clear out of the ground. Game on.

In the next over, Zimbabwe lost Sibanda and Brendan Taylor - who they believe is their best batsman - in quick succession. Suddenly, their confidence dissipated. In minutes, they slipped to 133 for 6, and the match was gone.

The focal point of pressure in a batting side is the middle order. If numbers 4, 5 and 6 need to do anything well, it's absorb pressure. With everything at stake, the hosts' middle order capitulated. When the game was gone, and it didn't really matter what the rest of the batsmen did, Elton Chigumbura and Prosper Utseya put together a tidy 88-run stand for the seventh wicket - incidentally, the second highest partnership of the entire match.

Andy Waller, the Zimbabwe coach, admitted that this defeat was more disappointing than Wednesday's, given that they had won a crucial toss and found themselves in strong positions more than once in the game. "We were in a good position to beat them and some rash shots cost us," he said. "It actually showed with the partnership of Prosper and Elton - without any pressure, they got us to the 180, 190 after 40 [overs]. Had we only been two or three down, we probably would've been 210, 220 looking at 70 in the last ten. I'd say, after twenty overs, I thought we were going to win the game. Even though we let them get away with a lot more runs, I thought we had a chance but then we made some silly errors."

To put it another way, Zimbabwe choked. Much has been made of the susceptibility of Zimbabwe's southern neighbours' to the 'C' word, but choking or panicking in pressure situations certainly isn't the preserve of the South Africans. In his famous essay The Art of Failure, author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell dissects the reasons why skilled people might fail in times of stress. Gladwell draws a clear distinction between choking and panicking, writing that the former is a result of thinking too much, while panic is an outcome of thinking too little. The differentiator, it seems is experience. People without experience panic because they don't know what to do, while people with experience choke because they forget how to do it.

Yet what if one is highly trained, as the Zimbabweans are, but lacks the experience of putting that training into effect? Did Zimbabwe choke on Friday, or did they panic?

The catch is that Zimbabwe don't really have any other options. In the absence of regular international competition, they practice. Because they practice too much and play too little, when they do find some quality opponents they flounder, making further competition more unlikely and leaving them with no option but to train some more.

"One thing we can't do is put it down to not practising hard," added Waller. "For ten weeks now, we field every day, we take catches every day, we throw at stumps every day. We do a lot of batting, we do a lot of bowling, and we practice those things. We're looking for no-balls and that sort of stuff.

"But it's different when you get out to the middle. Those pressure situations: the more we play, the more we're going to be able to handle those pressures and become mentally stronger. I was saying to the guys, we have to learn from our mistakes. Other teams who are playing all the time, they're playing games and they can learn from that. We're not going to get all those games so we've got to learn a damn lot quicker than the opposition do."

While Zimbabwe have practised, hard, on every off day during this series, India haven't really turned up much, apart from at the matches themselves. Their first 'practice' involved some light fielding, with plenty of laughs, and a spot of football. The Indians see no value in intensive training of that sort - not on a minor tour such as this one, not at this level, and especially not unless it's accompanied by actual experience of game situations. They'll net, sure, but when was the last time you heard about India - or any top side for that matter - focus purely on training for more than two months?

The catch is that Zimbabwe don't really have any other options. In the absence of regular international competition, they practice. Because they practice too much and play too little, when they do find some quality opponents they flounder, making further competition more unlikely and leaving them with no option but to train some more. In the last year, Zimbabwe have played eight ODIs. Since June, India have played 12. It's not that these teams aren't on a level playing field. They're barely playing the same sport.

The situation is clearly unfair, but what is left for Zimbabwe? Should they just pack up and forget this whole international cricket lark? What could possibly break them out of this funk? Waller, only two matches old in his national coaching career, is firm in his support for his charges. "I still believe we've got the players. I have no doubt we've got the players who can get the runs but we've got to learn from our mistakes."

That's undoubtedly true, but in the remainder of this series, and the ones which follow later this year against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the pressure to win and turn things around, will only increase the longer Zimbabwe go without a victory.

"The importance of the next two or three months is huge and that's what we keep discussing," captain Brendan Taylor said earlier this week. "It's up to us players to try to contribute to getting the public back in and getting sponsors back in. So it's a big time for us and a couple of good results against the best side in the world can only do us some good."

It's not a fair game, and there are no easy answers or solutions for Zimbabwe. All they can do is pick themselves up, dust themselves off and come back for more. They cannot run from pressure situations. They've got to learn to embrace them. Somewhere along the way, they've got to find some self-belief.

Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • POSTED BY Troyd on | July 28, 2013, 0:29 GMT

    If you are a Zim fan then you call 109/1 after 20 overs chasing 295 a winning position. I was elated at that point, had forgotten every lesson this team had ever taught me and was convinced we were on for a victory. I think we choked too, at the first faint smell of victory.The established players quickly got out, when they needed to push on - the middle order, our saviors in previous tours, looked frightened and confused.. I have Williams and Chigumbura as as my favorite 2 Zim players - but the latters runs today were pretty pointless in the context of this game. He didnt really go after it like he needed to. M. Waller can carry on for this series in my opinion, but he needs 3 solid innings to keep his place for whatever comes next - or one 99* that wins us the match. That innings alone, as long ago as it was, buys him time. @ZCF_OUtkast - you make some sense sometimes, but calling for the re-instatement of Matsikenyeri undermines you. Detatched from statistical reality

  • POSTED BY Nampally on | July 27, 2013, 23:29 GMT

    Every Cricketer does put in many hours of practice. So it is not unique to Zimbabwe alone. Match temperment, discipline in the field are additional factors which come from match experience. A batsman can look superb in the Nets(e.g. Rohit Sharma) but the heroics in the net practice are rarely reproduced in the match. Zimbabwe is a good team & needs to be patient & gain some experience before they can start winning. India has become a dominant #1 ODI team thru' young guys who can rise to the occasion. Dhoni is the best finisher in the ODI Cricket. Guys like Jadeja, Raina are outstanding fielders besides superb all rounders. Kohli was the fastest to record 15 ODI centuries(in 109 matches) in the world. Dhawan is one of the best openers in the ODI's. These guys have developed these skills thru' talent, practice & discipline. India still needs good bowlers in the "death overs". ODI is a format of tactical skill with many wins pulled out of losing positions thru' "Never say Die" tactics.

  • POSTED BY on | July 28, 2013, 6:48 GMT

    How Can one expect Zimbabwe beating India ??? In your dreams Mate!!!! Give all of us a break >>>..May be once in a blue Moon...Ha Ha Ha...

  • POSTED BY sukuviju on | July 28, 2013, 3:31 GMT

    Englands loss in the championship trophy final was a clear case of choking. South Africa did not choke in the Championship Trophy because they were well beaten, they did not lose a match from a winning position.

    What any team require is a good number 5,6, & 7 batsman who can absorb the presuure of early wickets, occupy the crease and play out the full 50 overs. India is blessed with Raina & Dhoni at 5 & 6, while Dhoni occupies the crease and runs hard, Raina produces little gems that relieves pressure and thereafter they now have the luxury of Jadeja who is turning out to be a good all rounder. The best part of Jadeja is nothing much is expected and so whatever good he does appears to be a bonus. Batsmen take him lightly and lose their wicket, bowlers take him lightly and concede runs. I feel replacing Dinesh Kartik with Pujara at number 4 will make the Indian batting very solid in testing conditions while Rahane & Kartik's presence in the 15 will keep all the batsmen on their toes.

  • POSTED BY Anti_ZCF_Outckast on | July 28, 2013, 2:35 GMT

    Tides will change, with time.

  • POSTED BY S.Jagernath on | July 27, 2013, 21:56 GMT

    At least Zimbabwe have Suresh Raina,a very valuable player for Zimbabwe.

  • POSTED BY gsingh7 on | July 27, 2013, 19:13 GMT

    chasing 295 how was 109 in 20 overs a winning position?? its not as if zimbabwe have world class middle order to cruise to win. mishra was always going to be best indian bowler as he can turn both ways. when he came to bowling the batting side collapsed and its not called chocking when number 10 side lose to number 1 side with more than 50 runs.

  • POSTED BY Anti_ZCFOutkast on | July 27, 2013, 18:23 GMT

    Waller has been one of the most reliable batsmen over the last 12 months. Why drop him after two failures for a player like Matsi who has failed for the last 10 years or Maruma who is out of his depth at international level.

  • POSTED BY Blade-Runner on | July 27, 2013, 17:15 GMT

    @khiladisher ; Chumpion teams like India have got great luck so the training n talent are put to bare minimum.

  • POSTED BY Ninety9 on | July 27, 2013, 17:08 GMT

    It's a clear case of putting too much pressure on yourself. It might sound negative, but I really do believe that Zimbabwe have a better chance of winning a game after they've lost the series. The coach is talking about causing an upset right from the start and that is not helping the Zimbabwe players. Once they know the series is gone, they will play their natural game and all their practice hours will show fruit. It's a tough spot to be in, but the weight of expectations and pressure of bringing back public and sponsors is not exactly what the team, the captain, and the coach should be talking about at this moment. All they should talk about is playing freely.

  • POSTED BY Troyd on | July 28, 2013, 0:29 GMT

    If you are a Zim fan then you call 109/1 after 20 overs chasing 295 a winning position. I was elated at that point, had forgotten every lesson this team had ever taught me and was convinced we were on for a victory. I think we choked too, at the first faint smell of victory.The established players quickly got out, when they needed to push on - the middle order, our saviors in previous tours, looked frightened and confused.. I have Williams and Chigumbura as as my favorite 2 Zim players - but the latters runs today were pretty pointless in the context of this game. He didnt really go after it like he needed to. M. Waller can carry on for this series in my opinion, but he needs 3 solid innings to keep his place for whatever comes next - or one 99* that wins us the match. That innings alone, as long ago as it was, buys him time. @ZCF_OUtkast - you make some sense sometimes, but calling for the re-instatement of Matsikenyeri undermines you. Detatched from statistical reality

  • POSTED BY Nampally on | July 27, 2013, 23:29 GMT

    Every Cricketer does put in many hours of practice. So it is not unique to Zimbabwe alone. Match temperment, discipline in the field are additional factors which come from match experience. A batsman can look superb in the Nets(e.g. Rohit Sharma) but the heroics in the net practice are rarely reproduced in the match. Zimbabwe is a good team & needs to be patient & gain some experience before they can start winning. India has become a dominant #1 ODI team thru' young guys who can rise to the occasion. Dhoni is the best finisher in the ODI Cricket. Guys like Jadeja, Raina are outstanding fielders besides superb all rounders. Kohli was the fastest to record 15 ODI centuries(in 109 matches) in the world. Dhawan is one of the best openers in the ODI's. These guys have developed these skills thru' talent, practice & discipline. India still needs good bowlers in the "death overs". ODI is a format of tactical skill with many wins pulled out of losing positions thru' "Never say Die" tactics.

  • POSTED BY on | July 28, 2013, 6:48 GMT

    How Can one expect Zimbabwe beating India ??? In your dreams Mate!!!! Give all of us a break >>>..May be once in a blue Moon...Ha Ha Ha...

  • POSTED BY sukuviju on | July 28, 2013, 3:31 GMT

    Englands loss in the championship trophy final was a clear case of choking. South Africa did not choke in the Championship Trophy because they were well beaten, they did not lose a match from a winning position.

    What any team require is a good number 5,6, & 7 batsman who can absorb the presuure of early wickets, occupy the crease and play out the full 50 overs. India is blessed with Raina & Dhoni at 5 & 6, while Dhoni occupies the crease and runs hard, Raina produces little gems that relieves pressure and thereafter they now have the luxury of Jadeja who is turning out to be a good all rounder. The best part of Jadeja is nothing much is expected and so whatever good he does appears to be a bonus. Batsmen take him lightly and lose their wicket, bowlers take him lightly and concede runs. I feel replacing Dinesh Kartik with Pujara at number 4 will make the Indian batting very solid in testing conditions while Rahane & Kartik's presence in the 15 will keep all the batsmen on their toes.

  • POSTED BY Anti_ZCF_Outckast on | July 28, 2013, 2:35 GMT

    Tides will change, with time.

  • POSTED BY S.Jagernath on | July 27, 2013, 21:56 GMT

    At least Zimbabwe have Suresh Raina,a very valuable player for Zimbabwe.

  • POSTED BY gsingh7 on | July 27, 2013, 19:13 GMT

    chasing 295 how was 109 in 20 overs a winning position?? its not as if zimbabwe have world class middle order to cruise to win. mishra was always going to be best indian bowler as he can turn both ways. when he came to bowling the batting side collapsed and its not called chocking when number 10 side lose to number 1 side with more than 50 runs.

  • POSTED BY Anti_ZCFOutkast on | July 27, 2013, 18:23 GMT

    Waller has been one of the most reliable batsmen over the last 12 months. Why drop him after two failures for a player like Matsi who has failed for the last 10 years or Maruma who is out of his depth at international level.

  • POSTED BY Blade-Runner on | July 27, 2013, 17:15 GMT

    @khiladisher ; Chumpion teams like India have got great luck so the training n talent are put to bare minimum.

  • POSTED BY Ninety9 on | July 27, 2013, 17:08 GMT

    It's a clear case of putting too much pressure on yourself. It might sound negative, but I really do believe that Zimbabwe have a better chance of winning a game after they've lost the series. The coach is talking about causing an upset right from the start and that is not helping the Zimbabwe players. Once they know the series is gone, they will play their natural game and all their practice hours will show fruit. It's a tough spot to be in, but the weight of expectations and pressure of bringing back public and sponsors is not exactly what the team, the captain, and the coach should be talking about at this moment. All they should talk about is playing freely.

  • POSTED BY LynadThike on | July 27, 2013, 17:01 GMT

    @kapiljoshi the problem is that ZC needs the additional money that comes withs hosting bigger nations to fund its franchise system and operations. Hosting smaller teams results in them turning a loss. It really is a difficult situation that they find themselves in.

  • POSTED BY Srini_Indian on | July 27, 2013, 16:33 GMT

    @ChandraaR: I couldn't agree with you more. I was a little taken aback when the author said 109/1 in 20 overs chasing 295 is a winning position. It is very difficult for best of teams let alone Zimbabwe.

  • POSTED BY khiladisher on | July 27, 2013, 16:32 GMT

    Champion teams like India have got great skills and talent so the training is put to bare minimum.

  • POSTED BY ZCFOutkast on | July 27, 2013, 16:13 GMT

    Liam, I think you are drawing conclusions on the wrong facts! This has got nothing to do with experience, matches or self-belief. This is politics at play. 1. You hit the nail on the head by pointing to a weak middle order, but the personnel there is wrong. Hami should be opening (w/Matsi), but since Taylor doesn't want to move up the order as well, he won't either. What's the point of having Hami in the middle order when he can't dictate terms to slower bowlers. Kohli, like many best batsmen plays at 3. IF Taylor is the best like your article states, why doesn't he play there as well, but demotes himself like the last match, while Kohli rose to the challenge? 2.Vusi&Raza should be making up the middle order at 4&6 respectively, with Williams between them. In this format we need middle order players who know how to keep the scoreboard ticking through boundaries and/or running singles, plus finish strongly. 3.Someone seriously needs to get arrested for deeming Malcolm an ODI player!

  • POSTED BY on | July 27, 2013, 14:22 GMT

    I think this is where the ICC is really short-sighted. Sorry, short-sighted? I mean, plain blind actually. All these financially unstable boards such as Zim, NZ, WI and the Associates need to play more games against each other. That will not only help them get adequate games, but generate some handy funds. Zimbabwe is a sad case in point, soon NZ and WI will also sink to these levels. Its a joke to call cricket a 10-nation sport. Its basically a Big Four (Ind, Aus, Eng and SA), surrounded by SL and Pak who I guess somehow thrive only because of their talented teams. ICC needs to wake up if its serious about making Cricket a real global sport instead of an elite rich-boys' club.

  • POSTED BY ChandraaR on | July 27, 2013, 13:59 GMT

    The author of the article and the Zim coach are putting the loss down to inexperience, and believed they were in a winning position before they choked. I wonder why. 109/1 in 20, chasing 294, is hardly a winning position for any team. It sounds good alright, but it just means the match is not lost already! 180 in 30 overs is plenty of ground to cover, and it needs serious batting skill, and the important skill to execute those batting skills under pressure. I doubt Zim 's middle order has the skill. Skill is different from experience. Waller himself mentions that the 7th wicket added 88 without any pressure. That's right, they did not feel the pressure because the game was as good as lost, and they actually made about 80 in 20 overs, btw. Having said that, I agree that the Zim batsmen are guilty of wasting a great opportunity to test themselves under pressure.

  • POSTED BY Vishal_07 on | July 27, 2013, 13:42 GMT

    Choking can't be applied to Zimbabwe, choking is when you are expected to win a match and lose from a very strong position. Zimbabwe need to learn the art of winning.

    And please don't start comparison with SA, that is just ridiculous.

  • POSTED BY KapilJoshi on | July 27, 2013, 13:02 GMT

    Why is everyone complaining about less matches played by Zim. Who was stopping Zim from organizing and playing matches with Bangladesh, Ireland, Afghanistan or even Pak, West Indies or New Zealand? These other nations are also usually complaining about less matches. Can't they be proactive in organizing the matches themselves? They has themselves to blame for this situation. They cannot always rely on Ind or Eng, SA, Aust to give them more matches. On other hand, didn't Australia A just tour Zimbabwe and gave them match practice? India on other hand did the right thing is resting their senior players else the matches would have been totally one-sided.

  • POSTED BY and1son on | July 27, 2013, 12:13 GMT

    lets get maruma in for waller since ervine is not available. waller has been disappointing. if chris 'bobby' mpofu was fit i would take jarvis out as well

  • POSTED BY ODI_BestFormOfCricket on | July 27, 2013, 11:36 GMT

    if they had as much as exerience india have, they might have capitalise the good start in the 2nd match.

  • POSTED BY ODI_BestFormOfCricket on | July 27, 2013, 11:36 GMT

    if they had as much as exerience india have, they might have capitalise the good start in the 2nd match.

  • POSTED BY and1son on | July 27, 2013, 12:13 GMT

    lets get maruma in for waller since ervine is not available. waller has been disappointing. if chris 'bobby' mpofu was fit i would take jarvis out as well

  • POSTED BY KapilJoshi on | July 27, 2013, 13:02 GMT

    Why is everyone complaining about less matches played by Zim. Who was stopping Zim from organizing and playing matches with Bangladesh, Ireland, Afghanistan or even Pak, West Indies or New Zealand? These other nations are also usually complaining about less matches. Can't they be proactive in organizing the matches themselves? They has themselves to blame for this situation. They cannot always rely on Ind or Eng, SA, Aust to give them more matches. On other hand, didn't Australia A just tour Zimbabwe and gave them match practice? India on other hand did the right thing is resting their senior players else the matches would have been totally one-sided.

  • POSTED BY Vishal_07 on | July 27, 2013, 13:42 GMT

    Choking can't be applied to Zimbabwe, choking is when you are expected to win a match and lose from a very strong position. Zimbabwe need to learn the art of winning.

    And please don't start comparison with SA, that is just ridiculous.

  • POSTED BY ChandraaR on | July 27, 2013, 13:59 GMT

    The author of the article and the Zim coach are putting the loss down to inexperience, and believed they were in a winning position before they choked. I wonder why. 109/1 in 20, chasing 294, is hardly a winning position for any team. It sounds good alright, but it just means the match is not lost already! 180 in 30 overs is plenty of ground to cover, and it needs serious batting skill, and the important skill to execute those batting skills under pressure. I doubt Zim 's middle order has the skill. Skill is different from experience. Waller himself mentions that the 7th wicket added 88 without any pressure. That's right, they did not feel the pressure because the game was as good as lost, and they actually made about 80 in 20 overs, btw. Having said that, I agree that the Zim batsmen are guilty of wasting a great opportunity to test themselves under pressure.

  • POSTED BY on | July 27, 2013, 14:22 GMT

    I think this is where the ICC is really short-sighted. Sorry, short-sighted? I mean, plain blind actually. All these financially unstable boards such as Zim, NZ, WI and the Associates need to play more games against each other. That will not only help them get adequate games, but generate some handy funds. Zimbabwe is a sad case in point, soon NZ and WI will also sink to these levels. Its a joke to call cricket a 10-nation sport. Its basically a Big Four (Ind, Aus, Eng and SA), surrounded by SL and Pak who I guess somehow thrive only because of their talented teams. ICC needs to wake up if its serious about making Cricket a real global sport instead of an elite rich-boys' club.

  • POSTED BY ZCFOutkast on | July 27, 2013, 16:13 GMT

    Liam, I think you are drawing conclusions on the wrong facts! This has got nothing to do with experience, matches or self-belief. This is politics at play. 1. You hit the nail on the head by pointing to a weak middle order, but the personnel there is wrong. Hami should be opening (w/Matsi), but since Taylor doesn't want to move up the order as well, he won't either. What's the point of having Hami in the middle order when he can't dictate terms to slower bowlers. Kohli, like many best batsmen plays at 3. IF Taylor is the best like your article states, why doesn't he play there as well, but demotes himself like the last match, while Kohli rose to the challenge? 2.Vusi&Raza should be making up the middle order at 4&6 respectively, with Williams between them. In this format we need middle order players who know how to keep the scoreboard ticking through boundaries and/or running singles, plus finish strongly. 3.Someone seriously needs to get arrested for deeming Malcolm an ODI player!

  • POSTED BY khiladisher on | July 27, 2013, 16:32 GMT

    Champion teams like India have got great skills and talent so the training is put to bare minimum.

  • POSTED BY Srini_Indian on | July 27, 2013, 16:33 GMT

    @ChandraaR: I couldn't agree with you more. I was a little taken aback when the author said 109/1 in 20 overs chasing 295 is a winning position. It is very difficult for best of teams let alone Zimbabwe.

  • POSTED BY LynadThike on | July 27, 2013, 17:01 GMT

    @kapiljoshi the problem is that ZC needs the additional money that comes withs hosting bigger nations to fund its franchise system and operations. Hosting smaller teams results in them turning a loss. It really is a difficult situation that they find themselves in.