Bowling coach among Zimbabwe's top priorities
Acquiring the services of a bowling coach will be one of Zimbabwe's top priorities as they look to build for future international series. The squad has had to do without a specialist in that department since April, when Heath Streak's contract was not renewed because of financial concerns, and new coach Andy Waller is keen to fill the gap as soon as resources allow for it.
"There is no talk of getting a bowling coach at the moment but we need one. When we are able to, we will try and get someone who can run specialist clinics," Waller said after Zimbabwe's historic series-levelling win against Pakistan. The victory was largely credited to the pace pack, who defended 264 on a pitch that, against expectations, became easier to bat on in the final two days.
Waller admitted he was pleasantly surprised by the seam bowlers in particular, who he had "concerns" about before the series began. His worry was that without attacking bowlers like Kyle Jarvis and Graeme Cremer, they would struggle to take wickets. But the foursome of Tinashe Panyangara, Tendai Chatara, Shingi Masakadza and Brian Vitori showed they were up to the task despite, as Brendan Taylor pointed out after the match, the absence of a bowling coach.
Chatara, who impressed on debut in West Indies, showed considerable progress as he led the attack. "He has recognised that he was the senior bowler and he played like one," Waller said.
Panyangara was, according to Hamilton Masakadza who led in the first Test, an unexpected workhorse whose consistency and economy rate were stellar while Vitori came back to the longest format looking more determined than he had before. "Leaving him out of the first Test gave Vits a little kick and it was good for him. He came back looking like he wanted to get wickets," Waller said.
Given that Shingi Masakadza, who made way for Vitori, also put in a good performance in the first Test, the level of competition among the bowlers has left with much to work with. "We've got a good crop of fast bowlers and we're in a good place right now," Taylor said.
How Zimbabwe will continue mentoring that group is the next challenge because the current crop was all nurtured by Streak. Without him, they've had to rely on the advice of other players and some old-fashioned DIY, as Chatara confirmed. "I've just been trying to work myself into international cricket and in that way I got more experience," he said. "Playing Bangladesh earlier in the year helped a lot as well because they are on the same level as us and it helped prepare for this series."
Former national player Gary Brent has been helping the young bowlers in the national academy, who also train at the Harare Sports Club. Chris Mpofu, who is recovering from injury, has also sought Brent's advice as he looks to make his comeback. Mpofu himself has been meting out mentorship to the likes of Chatara and Vitori, who are eager to learn from his experiences.
But Zimbabwe cannot continue to rely on the generosity of former players and Waller seemed to indicate a more permanent appointment needs to be made soon. For that, they will need to be able to afford one. Funding was the primary reason behind Streak no longer being involved.
He is still in the country but has recently started coaching at Falcon College, one of the best-known cricketing schools in Zimbabwe and has plans to start his own academy. If offered a financially secure deal, he could be lured back. Zimbabwe's bowlers would not doubt welcome any attempt to re-involve him, especially as many of them credit Streak's coaching style and attention to detail with the progress they've made so far.
Zimbabwe are also without a fitness coach, another casualty of the austerity measures Zimbabwe Cricket has been forced to put in place. Waller would like to see someone come in to take care of strength and conditioning but for now, he and fitness-obsessed batting coach Grant Flower are doing the job themselves. "They've got us fit and we are working pretty hard," Taylor said. "And we'll keep doing that."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent