<
>

Batting remains Zimbabwe's biggest weakness

Elton Chigumbura is hit by an Umar Gul bouncer Getty Images

Alan Butcher gave an assessment of his side the day before the game against Pakistan. The English coach of Zimbabwe - a nice symmetry to that, with England's coach being from Zimbabwe - appears to have an intensely straight-talking side to him. He thought this World Cup had probably come four years too early for this group of players.

He was asked today, after a seven-wicket loss to Pakistan, his side's fourth in five group games, whether his side had given a good account of themselves in this tournament. Slowly, deliberately, he came to the stark conclusion that they hadn't. The honesty should do Zimbabwe more good than harm. The humour will be needed as well. Asked how embarrassing his side's collapse of ten for 72 against Sri Lanka was, he replied, "Embarrassing, but not as embarrassing as 9-29."

There is something to Butcher's assessment that this is one World Cup too soon. Clearly there is workable material within the Zimbabwe side. They may not, as he also acknowledged, become world-beaters on the level of Australia or South Africa. But they can become a side that will come to be taken with some seriousness by the opposition.

The batting is a problem currently. In four out of five matches, their top has toppled to such an extent that the game has been all but over in the first 15 overs. Against Pakistan they were down to 43 for 4 within 13 overs. Batting long does not come naturally yet. "We fielded well and bowled superbly, but that can't be said about our batting," Elton Chigumbura, the captain whose birthday it was, said. "We have to work on it because that has been the big problem through the tournament. Besides the batting part, we've put up a big fight. My biggest concern is on the batting in the first 15 overs, especially against stronger teams. We have to really work on that when we get home."

The decision to bat first itself seemed a strange one. Zimbabwe have talked up their bowling through the tournament though its lack of wicket-taking incisiveness would suggest otherwise. They went nearly 80 overs against New Zealand and Sri Lanka without taking a wicket.

Here, under heavy cloud with showers around, and a nervy Pakistan batting line-up susceptible to precisely such circumstances, here was a sliver of a chance. Chigumbura chose instead to make first use of the surface because, he said, it seemed a good pitch and other sides had batted first on it and flourished.

Stoppages for rain didn't help Zimbabwe, especially the one that ultimately curtailed their innings just when the last Powerplay had begun. "We lost momentum with the rain stopping and playing again," Chigumbura said. "The way we approached the innings was to go out in our last four overs but we didn't get that. That's cricket."

But ultimately, the batting just wasn't good enough. "Unfortunately [the story is] pretty much the same as the game before and the game before that," Butcher conceded. "Everybody in the dressing room, particularly the batters, are very unhappy about the way things are. None of our players are trying to give their wickets away, they are all working hard and trying to improve but things are not going their way going well for 80% of our batting unit.

"That happens sometimes in any team, the only thing we can do is to keep practicing, try identifying areas players need to improve and devise ways for that to happen. There's no magic formula. We have to keep going. You can tell by the way we fielded and the way spinners battled against the conditions, gripping the ball, there is no lack of spirit in the side. We just have to keep working."

The focus may now switch to Chigumbura's captaincy. He doesn't believe it has particularly affected his form, but he's only made 58 runs in five games in the tournament. "I haven't performed the way I wanted, but maybe it's one of those times when you just go out of form. Unfortunately it came when I was the captain but obviously I am working hard to get into form but at the end of the day it is not my decision, it' the board's."