Zimbabwe out to catch greatness

Plenty of smiles for Tafadzwa Kamungozi Getty Images

The meaning of the tagline for this World Cup - Greatness is Contagious - may only be known to Zimbabwe. They tested the theory by rubbing shoulders with men who are considered real champions in these parts.

The All Blacks are to New Zealand what the Beatles were to Britain. They are much more than just the top-ranked rugby side who won the inaugural and most recent World Cup; they are superstars in every sense. If greatness really does rub off, there would be no-one better to brush against.

So when Steve Hansen, the All Blacks coach, turned up at Lincoln for a meet-up with New Zealand's cricket coach, Mike Hesson during the warm-up match between Zimbabwe and the co-hosts, the Zimbabwe players were the first in line to get his autograph. They already had New Zealand cornered at that point on 157 for 7 but the magic touch seemed to have some effect. Zimbabwe won their next warm-up game against Sri Lanka.

The next day, they attended the opening ceremony in Christchurch where Richie McCaw, the All Blacks skipper, was helicoptered in. Although he missed a high-five attempt with Stephen Fleming, McCaw only needed to stand and smile with the Zimbabwean players, which he managed just fine. Brendan Taylor and Regis Chakabva were among those who posed for pictures.

All that saw Zimbabwe arrive in Hamilton as an outfit infected with enthusiasm. "It's possible for us to beat a big team," Elton Chigumbura, Zimbabwe's captain, said.

Zimbabwe could easily let that statement sting, knowing that they were once on the verge of becoming a big team and now dream of defeating one, but they're not doing that. They are happy to let the label linger because talk of minnow and major nation can only be altered with time.

"Looking at the results before, people can call us small but of the teams we've played recently, there are good signs," Chigumbura said. "Playing a big team it's challenging but it's also a good opportunity to express ourselves. The win against Sri Lanka gave us a lot of belief. The guys feel like they belong here. Now it is about the main games."

First among Zimbabwe's "main" opposition is South Africa, who are expected to bully their way past. But Zimbabwe are planning on a brattish response. "We don't have to panic. They need to come and prove that (that they are favourites) right. We've got nothing to lose."

Quite the opposite. Zimbabwe see this as a chance to show what they have gained in the six weeks they have had under Dav Whatmore. Such a short period is not enough to unearth new players, invent new strokes or a mystery ball but is enough to change a mindset and that is what Zimbabwe claim has happened. "We have a different coach, with different tactics. Everyone is happy," Chigumbura said.

A squad laden with allrounders means Zimbabwe could have as many as eight bowlers with options ranging from seam to varieties of spin. That also means they bat deep, with big-hitting Solomon Mire likely to bring up the rear of the middle-order, although he can be used higher up if there's a need for a bludgeoner. "Don't be surprised to see a flexible batting order," Chigumbura said.

Don't be surprised by anything Zimbabwe present at this World Cup, especially not if you discover that greatness really is contagious.