Pakistan in Zimbabwe, 2011 September 15, 2011

Is Zimbabwe's fairytale ending?

Zimbabwe enjoyed a charmed return to Test cricket, but as the series against Pakistan showed, their are several issues that need to be sorted to prevent their fairytale from turning sour

After almost two months of wowing the cricketing world with their headline-grabbing comeback into the premier format of the game, with stories of their spirit and survival through barren cricketing times, Zimbabwe cricket's midnight hour has come. And their days of remaining cricket's prince charming are rapidly dwindling. They knew the fairytale would not last forever and that things would get more difficult. Pakistan are tough opposition and even though they regarded the tour of Zimbabwe as a way to introduce new players and change combinations, they were also careful not to approach it too lightly. As a result they succeeded in scalding Zimbabwe even on medium heat.

Their loss in the one-off Test was probably expected but the clean sweep of the one-day series was not, and Zimbabwe will feel aggrieved that in one Sunday afternoon of lethargic bowling, they let an entire series slip. That they went down fighting in the first match and threatened in parts of the third does not reflect on the results sheet. What is printed there is merely a record of them being outplayed with bat and ball, a purely objective summary of the events that took place on the field.

"We are better than that," Brendan Taylor said after the whitewash. "We know we can play better cricket than what we displayed in the last three ODIs." It's a defiant statement but it's also a plea to his own players to prove him right. Taylor is not simply spouting sentiment - Zimbabwe have already showed signs of improvement, although those signs did not translate into results.

They scored over 220 runs in each of the three matches, totals they were not able to reach through an entire World Cup. That they scored too slowly, often without intent or purpose, were bogged down in the middle overs of both their chases and never really got going when they batted first, are issues that need to be addressed. It's likely that fear of collapse is holding them back, as coach Alan Butcher indicated, something that can only be solved with greater self-belief in their ability to build a competitive total without imploding. "Our batters need to be more aggressive and harsher on themselves," Taylor said.

Vusi Sibanda, despite his tendency to get out playing the pull shot, is an example of this aggression. Sibanda has a fearless attitude in the time he spends at the crease. He is as sublime a driver of the ball as he is a puller and he showed improved shot selection as the series went on. Sibanda is a naturally attacking batsman and so, unlike some of his counterparts, he does not disappear into a shell when the bowling looks too difficult to take on. Younis Khan, Pakistan's man of the ODI series, singled out Sibanda and said that, "he performed in every game, even though he did not make a big ton, but in future he will be their star."

Some of the inhibition shown by the top order could also be because Zimbabwe's No. 6 and 7 spots are still too uncertain. Malcolm Waller and Elton Chigumbura have been used in those positions and, on the two occasions that Zimbabwe chased, were left with too much to do. Both are capable of hitting the ball a long way but they also need to be allowed to settle in and assess how to polish off a big total, something that has been lacking so far. Zimbabwe have to be careful not to over-rely on a burst at the end and so, have to pace their innings better in future. It was something both Taylor and Chamu Chibhabha have isolated as an area of concern. "When the spinners came on, there were too many dots balls," Chibhabha, who scored his first half-century in the third match, said.

Zimbabwe's inexperience is actually more prevalent in their bowling and Brian Vitori and Kyle Jarvis were lucky to escape any scathing criticism from their captain. Against quality batsmen, they took time to find the correct lengths, something they can't afford to do in future, when they will be required to be accurate from the first ball. "They [Pakistan] got off to a flier and that put us on the backfoot immediately," was all Taylor would say about Pakistan's start after Thursday's match, preferring to focus on the "character" Chigumbura and the spinners showed to rein Pakistan in.

In the field, they have got better, with the fielding improving gradually over the course of the series. They managed to fluff some simple chances, take some blinders and add some buoyancy to their game in that department. They still didn't get it entirely right and that's what concerned Taylor as Zimbabwe look ahead to a home-and-away series against a New Zealand side that is reputed for its discipline. "All three departments have to be spot on if you are going to compete and win," Taylor said. "We seem to get two right and forget about the third one but, in time, things will come right for us."

They have done the right thing by not being impatient and overly harsh on themselves, because improvement will only come with experience. Younis said that he saw signs of a bright future for Zimbabwe. "If they play regularly against tougher sides they will improve, they have the capability to be successful in international arena."

Although Zimbabwe are willing to bide the time necessary to build up the experience to challenge on a global stage, they also have to be more critical of themselves, something that started after the clean sweep. For the first time, Taylor showed genuine annoyance and admitted that he expected more. "We're definitely good enough to turn things around," he said.

It's a tricky scale that Taylor will gave to balance between applying pressure gently and offering enough support so that Zimbabwe don't collapse under the strain of losing. They need to be scolded gently and cajoled with a hint of force so that they understand that while they will be given the necessary space to improve, they have to make some haste in doing so, so that the fairytale doesn't come to an abrupt end.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on September 16, 2011, 18:36 GMT

    I guess the reason why we are comparing Zimbabwe with Pakistan are A - Pakistan are not plaing their full strength team but quite a few youngsters . B - Zimbabwe have been playing good cricket but not been able to finish as winners i mean if you pick out the first and third ODI they were well set to reach the target but lost their way in between .

    But i think they will learn these things as they play more matches against bigger and stronger cricketing nations !

  • Pleasure on September 16, 2011, 15:33 GMT

    More they play against top 8 teams, better they will be, as simple as that..... Ciao

  • Dummy4 on September 16, 2011, 8:14 GMT

    how come win against zimbabwae translate into dominance.

  • Dummy4 on September 16, 2011, 7:54 GMT

    Well if you see potentially a true Pakistani team then it is totally unfair to compare Zimbabwe with them as to me Pakistan is much better team then their recent past and they can outplay any of top tier teams with ease if they utilize their potential fully. Just visualize what would be the performance of a Pakistani team with all of their players present as a B team outplayed Zimbabwe with ease.

  • Zaheer on September 16, 2011, 5:38 GMT

    Zimbabwe players need more experience playing both home and away. It would be interesting to see how they perform against New Zealand. Pakistan, even with its second tier bowling attack, was always going to be a bit too much to handle for this inexperienced Zimbabwe side.

  • Dummy4 on September 15, 2011, 22:34 GMT

    There are two problems here. people keep trying to group Pakistan in Zimbabwe's league. I am not trying to sound arrogant, but truth is that Pakistan was in the WC semis and defeated high profile teams such as Australia and Sri Lanka. It is unfair to expect zimbabwe to perform against pakistan as they did against bangledesh. Zimbabwe is a great team with a bright future, but their test status should not be questioned. Give the team time to mature and in about 4-5 years, they wilil be much more competitive.

  • Dummy4 on September 15, 2011, 20:55 GMT

    Spelling mistake in the title. Its not "...their are several issues..." its "...there are several issues..."

  • Ahsan on September 15, 2011, 14:54 GMT

    Charles Coventry is travelling with squad & dropped due scoring just one half century in last 22 ODI innings at an average of 16, He's a WK so he has to compete with Taibu who is far better than this & if Taibu gets injured he's an automatic choice.

  • Jawwad on September 15, 2011, 14:00 GMT

    I am not sure which Zimbabwe you are watching in the series but to me they were neck in in all the matches played so far. Maybe Pakistan is a much improved side and no longer the middle of the pack where experts like to place them? Their 5 straight wins is the testimony to that and reaching semi final of he World Cup was no fluke either. Only fluke was to give cat's life to Sachin. Win or lose, Pakistan is the only team play away matches. Tell us the away record of all ODI teams in the last two years and who stands out? As for Zimbabwe, keep it up and all you need more exposure and some games.

  • Haroon on September 15, 2011, 13:26 GMT

    (Words of an arrogant winner) Sehwag: I don't feel like playing Bangladesh, their bowling is so ordinary (Words of a down to earth winner) Younis: I can see signs of a good future for Zimbabwe (Words of neither a modest guy nor a winner) Tamim: Zimbabwean bowlers are ordinary we will win the match

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