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'I've played for 12 years. Hopefully I have another four or so'

Vusi Sibanda is working as a commentator while he sits out of the Zimbabwe side. But he's optimistic that his playing career will soon be back on track

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
"From the World Cup up until the last series we had against India, I thought everything was good. I'm feeling good and my confidence is up there"  •  AFP

"From the World Cup up until the last series we had against India, I thought everything was good. I'm feeling good and my confidence is up there"  •  AFP

It was difficult to tell whether Vusi Sibanda was more uncomfortable behind the microphone when Zimbabwe crashed to 164 all out against New Zealand than if he had been batting out in the middle. His team-mates were being shot out by the short ball, a delivery that has been Sibanda's nemesis for as long as he has been playing. To call them out for their shortcomings was more than Sibanda could bring himself to do.
"It's easy for me sitting up here to criticise but I always try and be a bit more careful on what I say. New Zealand have one of the best bowling attacks around. It's just that our batters didn't give themselves a fair chance to be able to score big. The surface itself is a good batting wicket - there are no demons. Had we given ourselves a chance, I'm sure we would have put up a decent total," Sibanda told ESPNcricinfo between innings. "It's easy to nail people and if that was me and I had done the same thing, people would be saying the same thing as well. I know the feeling and it's not great. I have been hurting to see that and I feel for them as well."
The conflict of interest of being a current player as part of the commentary team aside, Sibanda, who has been part of the system for 12 years, is as well placed as anyone to assess where the problems lie. According to him, it is not as if there is a skills shortage, because Zimbabwe's schools continue to produce technically correct cricketers, even if many of them cannot go on to pursue the game professionally. It is more a case of being overawed by the occasion, on the few chances Zimbabwe get to play international cricket.
"We've all got the basics, we know how we need to go about things technically. It's more the mindset and also getting used to batting long. Guys have to ask themselves, how long can you keep doing the basics? The mind has to then take over."
And Sibanda is a classic example of when that doesn't happen.
He has been chronically unable to translate his talent into international tons. In 14 Tests, he has two fifties but no hundreds. In 127 ODIs, he has only two hundreds, one of which was against a Full Member. He averages under 25 in all three formats internationally.
With a record that has not improved enough over a 12-year international career, the second half of which was full of selectorial snubs - Sibanda was left out in series against South Africa and Bangladesh in 2010, the New Zealand tour in 2012, dropped during ODI series against Bangladesh (2013) and Afghanistan (2014), left out of the 2015 World Cup squad and the tour of Pakistan later that year - the sun could be setting on him. That was the view of the local newspaper NewsDay in September 2015, but Sibanda remains focused on getting his spot back.
He was convinced he had done enough to be part of the squad for the ongoing series against New Zealand and does not know why he was sidelined. "I thought I was going to be part of the squad, I'd done all the preparations. I didn't get to speak to Makhaya [Ntini] or [Tatenda] Taibu, but I am pretty sure they will speak to me at some point. It's obviously sad, but there's not a lot I can do about it."
That communication breakdown is symptomatic of Zimbabwe cricket's self-termed transition under new chairman Tavengwa Mukuhlani. The starting XI for the first Test was only announced close to midnight on the night before the match, although the squad had been told they would find out after their morning practice session. Many of them spent an anxious afternoon trying to ascertain whether they had made the cut.
Perhaps even Sibanda was among them because when he arrived at Queens on Tuesday afternoon, he discovered the full extent of Tino Mawoyo's injury. A short exchange between the two men went like this:
"I heard you got hit again," Sibanda said to Mawoyo.
"No, not again," Mawoyo replied. "I was only hit once and you were there."
Sibanda was part of the Zimbabwe A side that played against the touring New Zealanders in Harare and had to stand in as an opener when Mawoyo was injured.
"But you'll be fine to play tomorrow?" Sibanda asked Mawoyo.
"No, I'm not going to play."
In the end, Zimbabwe chose to pick the openers from the selected squad and used Chamu Chibhabha and Brian Chari in the roles. While Chibhabha showed some promise, Chari struggled, although he had the added responsibility of keeping wicket for two days. Now, with Mawoyo yet to have a full net, Sibanda may be in line and despite not being in action for a week, he believes he will be ready.
"You don't lose a lot from not doing much for five or six days. I played a three-day game against the New Zealanders in Harare and even though my score wasn't great I felt good. I will still be prepared to play but it depends on what the thinking is," he says.
Sibanda made a duck and 37 in that match and has scored just two fifties in his last nine international innings, which does not scream fine form. But taken in its context - Zimbabwe have very few players who have been among the runs recently - it may be good enough, especially when coupled with Sibanda's experience. "I'm feeling in good nick. From the World Cup up until the last series we had against India, I thought everything was good," he says. "I'm feeling good and my confidence is up there."
If he does not get the call-up, then he is eyeing the proposed triangular between Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and West Indies, which could be played in early November. "Hopefully I do get a gig then so I can try and fight for my spot."
But if he is not picked, does Sibanda think his international career may be reaching its end?
"No, not yet. I know I've played for 12 years. So I'd say, hopefully, I have another four or so. I feel fit and strong. If my body is still going strong, I will just push for as long as I can. If I am still able to keep up with the intensity level, then I will keep playing."
That's what a lot of Zimbabwe's players are likely to say when asked if they will continue trying to make it in a system that does not always appear to be fully functional. Zimbabwe Cricket has suffered as much as the country in the economic downturn and the effects are widespread. From a domestic structure struggling to take shape to players' salaries that are often unpaid, there are times when the game, like Sibanda's career, appears to be sinking, but the man himself holds out hope that both can be resurrected.
"The game is always going to be there. They are putting so much effort into the restructure. It's only a matter of time when things to get back into shape," Sibanda said. "I believe things will change eventually. It doesn't matter when it happens or how long it takes, things will get back to where they should have been if things were done in the right way."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent