<
>

Canada ponder changes, Zimbabwe bank on spin

It might be a clash of the lightweights, but both Canada and Zimbabwe know this could be one of the few opportunities to earn victory points. Little wonder then that both captains sounded confident at the weighing scale. "It is a big game for us," Elton Chigumbura said. "We have to win this match as that puts us in the running for the next stage, the quarterfinals." Later Ashish Bagai, Canada's banker-taking-a-break captain, spoke as if the victory tomorrow was a done deal. "Zimbabwe and Kenya are going to be the best chance to win," Bagai said. "Those were our team goals coming into the tournament."

Zimbabwe have more experience of playing on a big stage, more experienced players and many guiding lights like Heath Streak, Grant Flower and Alastair Campbell to keep an eye on them. Facing them are Canada, mostly a motley crew of amateurs. The only known name, and professional, being John Davison - the oldest player in the tournament, whose belligerent 111 (against West Indies in 2003), the second-fastest century in a World Cup, has now gathered cobwebs. So far in this edition, including the warm-up games and the first group match against Sri Lanka, the 40-year-old opener has a highest of 3.

The top three have failed consistently and Bagai did not rule handing a World Cup debut to the youngest player in the tournament, 16-year-old Nitish Kumar, a precocious talent according to Bagai and Davison. At the training today, Nitish was part of the first line of batsmen and later had an extended session of throw-downs against the new ball. "A bit of a shuffle is on the cards," Bagai admitted. "The first ten overs have been tough for us losing way too many wickets and it has been hard to recover. The top order needs to take responsibility." If Davison and Kumar do open, it would probably be the first occasion in a World Cup of the oldest and the youngest player walking in together.

The onus would be on Bagai to stay strong. He has been Canada's best batsmen in the recent past, averaging 60 in the last 13 ODIs. Another batsman known for his firepower is Rizwan Cheema. At the outset of this tournament, Cheema had said he would like to go big at every opportunity. A duck against Bangladesh did not tame his aggression as he unleashed a flurry of bit hits using raw power against England to help Canada recover from 28 for 5. His 93 runs from 71 balls gave England a mighty scare, but Canada fell short by 16 runs.

Still, if Chigumbura is not worried, it is because in Ray Price, Prosper Utseya and Graeme Cremer, he has three bowlers who could temper Canadian aggression. Against Australia last week in Ahmedabad, the trio had bowled in tandem and with discipline to limit the world champions to a modest total. "We are going to play to our strengths which is on the spinners side. On the bowling side it won't change much," Chigumbura said, indicating Zimbabwe were likely to stick to the same bowling line-up.

Incidentally, Zimbabwe suffer from the same problem that ails their opponent: their top three have been inconsistent. Both Brendan Taylor and Tatenda Taibu have played 100-plus ODIs but neither has managed to grown into a dependable batsmen. Charles Coventry has fallen apart after he equalled Saeed Anwar's then-record 194 against Bangladesh in 2009. He has since hit only one half-century.

Even though the match is likely to be played to empty stands - not such an uncommon experience for both teams - it will be far from a quiet contest with both sides having a lot to prove while there is also a lot to lose.