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Zimbabwe's opening conundrum

Liam Brickhill

January 26, 2011

Comments: 9 | Text size: A | A

Charles Coventry lines up a big shot during his 67 0ff 40 balls, Matabeleland Tuskers v Southern Rocks, Stanbic Bank 20 Series, Harare, November 21, 2010
Charles Coventry may be the best option as assertive opening partner for Brendan Taylor © Zimbabwe Cricket
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Sean Ervine's departure from Zimbabwe's World Cup squad will have come as a massive blow to the team's planning and morale ahead of the tournament. His presence would have helped to shore up a brittle middle order, as well as providing an extra option with the ball, and without Ervine in their line-up Zimbabwe may well have to consider a re-shuffling of the batting order.

With the elder Ervine batting somewhere between No. 4 and 6, Charles Coventry had seemed the candidate most likely to be shunted up the order as a pinch-hitting opener, with Hamilton Masakadza and Chamu Chibhabha - Brendan Taylor's partners at the top of the innings in recent times - both left out of the squad.

"I am both excited and a little bit surprised as well, but I think this is my best chance to do well after the selectors showed faith in me by recalling me into the national team," Coventry told the Zimbabwe Independent before Ervine's announcement.

"Opening the innings with Taylor will be a big challenge but it's one I have set myself for since the rumour started making the rounds. Facing the new ball is a tough challenge. I have done it before at provincial level but internationally it's a different thing altogether, especially facing teams like Australia and Pakistan."

Ervine's departure prompted Zimbabwe Cricket to approach the ICC Event Technical Committee to seek approval for batsman Tino Mawoyo as a replacement. An opening batsman by trade, Mawoyo had been part of Zimbabwe's non-travelling reserves. Both he and Regis Chakabva could be prevailed upon to partner Taylor, while Sean Williams may well slot into the middle order as he provides another left-handed option and is proficient in playing spin.

Whatever happens, Zimbabwe will go into the competition with an experimental opening pair that will be their fourth combination in the last 12 months. Masakadza and Vusi Sibanda were asked to do the job during the series against West Indies in March last year, with Masakadza and Taylor opening during the home tri-series that followed, with some success. With Masakadza registering just eight runs in three innings against Ireland in September, Chibhabha was pushed up the order in the second ODI against South Africa in October after a pair of confident half-centuries against them in the Twenty20s.

He struggled to adapt his game to the 50-over format, however, and after a 53-run opening stand in the nine-run win over Bangladesh in the first match of their series in December he failed to build anything substantial in the matches which followed. When Masakadza was brought back into the line-up for the last game of the series he scratched around for 20 balls before being trapped in front of his stumps by Mashrafe Mortaza.

Without a clear candidate to partner Taylor, and seeking to minimize the disruption caused by Ervine's last minute change of heart, Zimbabwe may well decide to stick to what was rumoured to be the original plan and open with Coventry. He has had a stop-start international career, however, and has yet to show more than brief flashes of the talent that brought him an unbeaten 194 against Bangladesh - made from No. 3.

"To be honest Charles Coventry has been a hugely frustrating guy to deal with," chairman of selectors Alistair Campbell was moved to say recently. "We have put in so much effort in developing him but he hasn't been performing. But we hope that he can be the X-factor to deliver the big innings. We will try him at the top and we will also see how Chakabva responds to being promoted to the top as well."

Coventry doesn't deny that he is yet to do his talent justice, and insists he has been working hard on the technical frailties in his batting in preparation for the World Cup. "I have gone out a few times when everyone including me felt I could have kept my wicket and batted through," he added. "This is what they [the selectors] want me to do but I think a few times I have gone for big shots and got myself dismissed unnecessarily. I have to work on that and I think I will give a better show at the World Cup.

"We have to take the game to our opponents, play attacking cricket and not let them bully us. We are capable of beating anyone; we have shown that before by beating Australia at the Twenty20 World Cup. It's going to be tough but if we apply ourselves fully we can go through to the next round."

Coventry's bullish statements were echoed by national captain Elton Chigumbura, who hinted that Zimbabwe - needing to win at least three group games in order to go through to the Quarter Finals - would target New Zealand.

"We will fancy our chances against New Zealand who struggled the last time they were in the subcontinent," said Chigumbura. "They lost all their matches against Bangladesh and they clearly struggled against spin. We have a very good spin attack, so we will capitalise on their frailties and hopefully we will get a positive result."

Zimbabwe will also be hoping for more consistent performances from their captain, who suffered a startling loss of form with both bat and ball last season. "I have had a loss of form, but I know I am just an innings away from getting back to my best," he added. "I have been working hard on that and I have also been working on my bowling with Heath Streak."

Liam Brickhill is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by Maharishi21 on (January 29, 2011, 17:38 GMT)

I think Zim should experiment with Charles in the warm up matches against s.africa and Ireland and give the license to kill at the top of the order. Interesting to show he goes accordingly zim should set strategy at the top of the order along with Brendan. Also i think Elton bats too low down the order putting additional pressure on his self. I think he should bat a little up the order. Pushing Taibu and Craig at no. 6 &7 respectively. Zim will have to shuffle their order in absence of Sean to progress further from group stage.

Posted by   on (January 29, 2011, 14:22 GMT)

Best of luck to Zimbabwe, but I am sure that NZ will do very well, and win against all the weaker teams.

Posted by   on (January 27, 2011, 18:37 GMT)

I personally dont think explosivity is going to win Zimbabwe matches up top. someone who can build an innings for 50 overs and keep out quality international opening attacks is what will be key! Runs will come naturally on flat subcontinent wickets! Elton Chigumbura says one good innings away..i dare say that sounds like a captain trying to justify his inclusion!

Posted by FlowerPower on (January 27, 2011, 11:33 GMT)

As for experience only Masakadza (163), Taylor (161) and Chibaba (109) have over 100 List A matches under their belts. Duffin has a modest 65, the rest are green, Mawoyo (43), Zhuwawo (32), Gupo (15), Ballance (10), furthermore only 5 have ODI experience, Taylor (112 at an ave of 32), Masakadza (102/27), Chibaba (56/21), Duffin (32/24), Mawoyo (2/12), and Zhuwawo (1/16). Coventry has not opened for the Tuskers (his franchise in the last year in the 40 over format), he has never done this at International level. He has 93 ListA games, played 4 this season at an average of 18, HS of 29 SR of 108, and scored no 100s or 50s. How he is touted as an opener really? I wonder? Masakadza has struggled, but he isnt that much worse than any of the other openers, and at least he is familiar with the International stage, surely if the selectors didnt have faith in him they should have gromed someone from 4 years ago (after the 2007 cup) or at least over the past 18 months.

Posted by FlowerPower on (January 27, 2011, 11:31 GMT)

Of the 5 franchises, regular openers include, Balance, Chibaba, Duffin, Gupo, Marillier, Masakadza, Mawoyo, Raza, Taylor, Zhuwawo. Raza is Pakistani, who is yet to get his papers, having expressed keeness to play for Zim. That leaves 9. Of these Ballance has the highest in the Provincial 40 game (58), largely due to a 135 no. Chibaba's 89 is from 1 innings and cannot be a good pointer. Duffin has an average of 37, the rest are not too dissimilar Mawoyo(30), Masakadza (29), Marillier (28), Taylor (28), Gupo (27), Zhuwawo (24). None except Ballance has scored a century (135no), decent HS include Duffin 88, Mawoyo 73, Masakadza 71, Taylor 67, the rest have modest HS, Marillier (57), Gupo (54), Zhuwawo (57).

Posted by   on (January 27, 2011, 9:32 GMT)

The selectors should of seriously called up duffin who is a natural opener, he has experience and is tried and tested, other options that missed consideration are mariller, raza come on ZC.

Posted by FlowerPower on (January 27, 2011, 6:00 GMT)

This is real;y poor planing from the Alister and team. If they knew they were going to dump Hamilton (and Chibaba) why didnt they do it earlier. And experiment earlier. What if Coventry doesn't work? He says he has done it at provincial level, when? and how often? Come on Alister if you want to be taken seriously then you must be serious. If really you were serious you could have expedited Raza's papers. Personally I would have take Hamilton, you have not worked on a plan B, why start now, at the world cup? And for the record I dont think Hamilton has been managed well. The moment he had issues he should have been let go to work on his game at provincial level. He is not a bad player but needed to be helped find his way, this may totally destroy his confidence. Anyways good luck. You will need bucketloads of it.

Posted by wiseshah on (January 27, 2011, 4:35 GMT)

i think in this world cup strength wise there is 3 category. A group--india, south africa, australia, srilanka. group B---england, bangladesh, pakistan, and group C--new zealand, zimbabwe, west indies , ireland and rest associates. so zimbabwe has nothing to lose

Posted by braindead_rocker on (January 27, 2011, 0:31 GMT)

Good luck Zimbabwe...You guys do well on the subcontinent...so go all out for it. Even I feel that most smaller teams will target NZ.

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