Calm Masakadza turns focus back on the cricket

The newly appointed Zimbabwe captain says he will try to block out all of his side's off-field troubles in the tri-series against Pakistan and Australia

Liam Brickhill
Liam Brickhill
Hamilton Masakadza acknowledges his half-century, Sri Lanka v Zimbabwe, tri-series, Mirpur, January 17, 2018

Hamilton Masakadza acknowledges his half-century  •  Associated Press

Throughout his career, Hamilton Masakadza has complemented his brawny batting on the pitch by being a calm, amiable presence off it amid sometimes tempestuous times for Zimbabwe. Considering the ongoing brouhaha between the board and the absence of Zimbabwe's senior core of players, his first press conference since being named captain could well have been laden with tension. But if there was any, it was immediately dissipated by his warm laughter when one of the Zimbabwean press corp suggested: "I don't know whether to offer you congratulations or condolences."
This isn't Masakadza's first crack at the captaincy, and he's led Zimbabwe in all three formats, but in the past he has served in the role usually only in an interim capacity. He has only led Zimbabwe once at home, in a Test against Pakistan that Brendan Taylor, who was captain at the time, missed to be present for the birth of his son Mason. Masakadza only found out he was to captain in that game when he got to the ground in the morning. This time around he was given 24 hours to ease into the role when his captaincy was announced on the eve of the tri-series opener, but in typical fashion Masakadza seems to be taking it all in his stride.
"I'm very excited to be back at the helm and leading the team again," he said. "There's been a bit of stuff going on around the team, but the key is just to try and focus on the job at hand now and go out there and do a job for the team. And do a job for the country."
"There's actually been a lot of excitement in the camp, with a few guys coming back that haven't played for a while and a few new guys making their first strides. It's upbeat in the camp."
Masakadza's level-headed optimism seems to have been amplified by the positive mental attitude of new coach Lalchand Rajput, something which has also rubbed off on the rest of the squad. "He's a very positive guy, that's the main thing that's really stuck out, though we haven't been with him for very long," Masakadza said. He's a very positive individual and he's encouraged the guys a lot and got us thinking positively, which is very important for us."
Though the absence of Taylor and several other senior players has left a huge hole in Zimbabwe's resources, the squad is not without its veterans and Masakadza welcomed the return of Elton Chigumbura to the national fold. Chigumbura, himself a former captain, last played an international for Zimbabwe 18 months ago, but returns with the experience of 205 ODIs and - vitally, for a team that doesn't play much Twenty20 cricket - 47 T20Is.
"There's a lot of experience there, and that's something I'll be able to use and bounce ideas off him," Masakadza said. "He's still got a lot of international cricket left in him, and for me right now it will be important to have guys like that in the changing room. Guys like him and Chamu [Chibhabha] that have some experience behind them, it will really help my job to have guys like that around."
For all their positivity, Zimbabwe face a steep challenge in trying to better two teams that, on paper, vastly outgun them, but Masakadza insisted that "anything can happen" in T20 cricket.
"When we play against these bigger teams we're always underdogs. It's not the first time that we've been here. The guys just have to understand that in T20, anything can happen and anyone can turn a game on their day."
His words were echoed by Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed, who would not get ahead of himself despite the fact that he is leading a team rated No. 1 in the world in this format, having won a world record eight T20I series on the trot, and seven T20Is in a row in 2018. Sarfraz insisted that a "favourites" tag had no place in T20 cricket.
"In Twenty20, nobody is the favourite," he said. "No team can be underestimated. Zimbabwe still have good players [despite missing some big names], and we're not taking anything lightly."
"Every game is important, and especially the first of the tour," Sarfraz said. "Wherever you go, it's not easy. The conditions here are not easy, especially early on. So the toss will be important as well."

Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town