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Zimbabwe face unaccustomed challenges

Chris Mpofu conceded 24 runs in his three overs AFP

Zimbabwe are in unfamiliar territory heading into their short one-day series against Ireland. It is not often that they can reasonably be expected to win a series, but they should have an advantage in home conditions and captain Elton Chigumbura admitted that this has created a different sort of pressure for his team.

"When we go out there we want to win every game that we play," said Chigumbura. "We've got more expectation on us to win these games against Ireland, so obviously there's a little more pressure on us. So we have to rise to the occasion. It's an important series for us. I'm sure if we play our best cricket we'll come out on top. We've been looking forward to this series. It's going to be hard cricket."

Unusually, in recent months Zimbabwe have also had the task of managing the workload of some of their senior players a little more carefully. After years of their cricket suffering from a paucity of games, Zimbabwe have had a packed schedule this year, with visits from India and New Zealand followed by the recent series against Pakistan and Ireland's visit. Afghanistan, who they will play in five ODIs and two T20Is later this month, are already in the country warming up.

"We had a day off after Pakistan," said Chigumbura. "There's lots of cricket, especially this month, but that's what we've been asking for for a long time: to have more games. Now we've got them so we just have to make sure that we deal well with the short breaks that we've got in between."

Bowling coach Douglas Hondo added that his bowlers are not suffering despite their increased workload. "At the moment the bowlers are still fresh enough," he said. "We've been managing their workloads and telling them after games, 'do absolutely nothing, just rest'. Then we do a little bit of analysis and the day before a game have a little bit of a run around. The ball is coming out well for them, so we don't have to do a lot of physical stuff."

Workload and pressure aside, Zimbabwe have also had to deal with the situation presented by some under-performing seniors. Vusi Sibanda, Prosper Utseya and Hamilton Masakadza have all lost their places due to poor form. "He's not in the squad, he has been dropped from the team," Chigumbura explained somewhat awkwardly when asked about Masakadza. But he added that Zimbabwe also have much to be confident about.

"If you look at the series we've played this year, compared to last year or two years ago, right now almost every series we're winning a game so there's lots of confidence from that. Some of the guys have been consistent, and hopefully the in-form guys can carry on with that."