Zimbabwe have lost eight ODIs and four T20Is on the trot since their World Cup dreams ended in anguish with a three-run defeat to UAE at home in March. After their latest defeat - the ODI series loss against South Africa - allrounder Sean Williams admitted that both he and the team are still haunted by their rain-affected failure in the World Cup Qualifiers.
"It is very difficult," Williams said. "That game against UAE still haunts all of us, the guys who played in that game." Williams, along with Brendan Taylor, Craig Ervine, Graeme Cremer and Sikandar Raza, fell out with the board in the aftermath of that tournament, missing the disastrous 0-5 defeat to Pakistan in July.
With fences since mended, three of the missing players have now returned and Zimbabwe have had a few chances to bury the ghosts of that game in their latest series. But, just as they did in that game, they have continued to let strong positions slip.
"It doesn't feel good to lose a match, or lose a series," Williams said. "Losing the series hurts more than losing this match, but losing this match today takes a lot of pride away from us, and I feel there was a lot of pride to play for in this match [even] after losing the series. After giving ourselves good chances to win the previous two games, we let that slip. Today, on a better wicket to bat on, the top six didn't take advantage. A lot to learn. A tough series for us, and a hurtful one."
After scores of 4 and 9 in the first two ODIs against South Africa, Williams was finally back in the runs as he struck 10 fours to top score with 69 in the third match. "[This innings] was extremely important for me," he said. "The last time I scored runs was against UAE, it was an 80. I failed to get to a 100 and I failed to cross the line for the team. It hurt, it really did hurt me. Batting on these next two wickets [in the first two South Africa ODIs] was extremely difficult, but I knew I was one knock away from finding my form again."
Williams added 73 for the fourth wicket with Brendan Taylor, who also showed glimpses of his best before was dismissed. "The over before he got out, we had actually just spoken and said 'right, we're one step closer to a target'. And it wasn't three balls later that happened. Cricket's a funny game. We had big plans, the two of us. We always seem to bat well together, when we give ourselves a chance."
With the series now switching to the T20 format, Williams and Taylor will continue to play a vital role in the middle order. The first T20I will be played in East London on Tuesday night, and Williams reckons Zimbabwe have nothing left to lose.
"We've got nothing to lose and everything to gain," he said. "As far as I see it, [in the T20s] like a boxer, if you get hit first, you're going to lose the game. It's going to be up to us to land the first punch in the T20s and give it everything."
Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town