South Africa in Zimbabwe, 2007 August 23, 2007

No interest in amateurish Zimbabwe

Tawanda Jonas

Zimbabwe lost the first ODI against South Africa by five wickets © AFP
If only Heath Streak, the reliable and dependable allrounder, was around. If only Andy Blignaut, the medium-pacer with a knack for taking priceless wickets, was around. Then Wednesday's showdown between Zimbabwe and South Africa would have illuminated Harare Sports Club as the one-day series gathers momentum.

But gone are the days when fans used to gleefully watch real men pulling fours and sixes off venerated pace bowlers and offspinners. Zimbabwe's national cricket team has been reduced to a bunch of amateurish school-boy cricketers and suddenly all the interest and zeal which accompanies the visit of a powerhouse such as South Africa has died down.

Cries for Kevin Curran's dismissal as national coach have developed into howls. His critics maintain he has been ineffective since taking over from Phil Simmons as he has presided over Zimbabwe's continued descent into the abyss of international cricket.

Curran knows, by now, that the nation's confidence in him has hit rock bottom; that it is time to salvage his battered pride by snatching a respectable result out of the series against South Africa.

He knows that the nation is now fed up of his perennial excuse that the team is still on a learning curve. Curran said this when losing his first Test in charge against India in August 2005. He repeated himself after another comprehensive Test loss to New Zealand the following month. And when drawing 2-2 against lowly Kenya, Curran had already proved himself as the devil rather than the messiah for Zimbabwe cricket.

Only last week Curran, the former Zimbabwe international, was still singing from the same hymn sheet. "The encouraging thing is that we have managed to come through and in the last four days of the matches, and in the shorter version of the game, the idea is to bat through our overs... and hope to translate the 100s into 200s and then maybe 300 runs.

"There were some positives that came through against India A and the South Africans in that Tatenda Taibu, played admirably well on his return to international cricket after a two-year absence. We hope to continue improving- and who knows, we could pull a surprise or two in South Africa when we go there for the Twenty20 tournament," Curran said following another comprehensive defeat by a visiting South Africa A side.

His view of the national game, although sounding like that of an amateur coach, has become a reflection of how the once-revered international has lost confidence in himself as national team coach and in the team he leads. Charles Mhlauri's stubbornness would have done better to drum up the fans' support and faith in the team.

Yet, with all odds staked against Zimbabwe, the team might just be inspired to do well against the Proteas in the remaining two, if only to boost morale and confidence ahead of next month's Twenty20 championships.

Curran's batting line-up seems better coordinated since the return of Vusimuzi Sibanda from Australia and the maturity that has been exhibited by Christopher Mpofu over the past few years. But Zimbabwe's prospects of upstaging South Africa are far-fetched despite Taibu's satisfactory performances against South Africa A.

Taibu is a bit subdued and his response is measured. "Anything can happen in a cricket match," he said. "Hopefully, my being around again for Zimbabwe can add value to the team."