Matches (33)
BAN v NZ (1)
SA v WI (A tour) (1)
WI v IRE (EME) (1)
Abu Dhabi T10 (6)
Legends League (2)
NZ v PAK (W) (1)
Hazare Trophy (18)
WI v ENG (1)
IND v ENG (W) (1)
AUS v PAK (1)
Match Analysis

Zimbabwe's challenge: play Raza and Williams at the top or let them marshal the middle?

The answer might depend on whether they are looking for short-term gains or if they have a bigger picture in mind

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Sikander Raza and Sean Williams kept India at bay for a brief while  •  AFP/Getty Images

Sikander Raza and Sean Williams kept India at bay for a brief while  •  AFP/Getty Images

Sikandar Raza and Sean Williams are the best batters in this Zimbabwe XI. Not just now. They have been among the best over the last ten years. Brendan Taylor, Hamilton Masakadza, Craig Ervine and Elton Chigumbura haven't played - or didn't play - as much as them in this period.
Raza and Williams are also the most experienced batters in this Zimbabwe side.
Now, in a top side, in normal conditions that ODIs are played in, it would be admirable for the two senior batters to take up the most difficult role in 50-overs games: when the field goes out, when the ball becomes soft, and scoring becomes difficult.
Zimbabwe, however, are a side that has been struggling for runs from the top order. Even during their two superb chases of 291 and 304 against Bangladesh, they got off to abysmal starts. They have had scores of 31 for 4, 31 for 4, 18 for 4, 49 for 4, 6 for 2, 42 for 4 and 47 for 2 in their last seven ODIs. The early-morning starts and the movement for the first hour or so during this series have further compounded their top-order problems.
India's new-ball spells in both matches - aided by the movement available to them - have been top-notch. It is not hard to imagine more accomplished batters getting out to what was on offer. Zimbabwe's problems, though, have extended to contests against Bangladesh and Afghanistan too.
You watch from outside and the first thing you notice is that their best batters are batting too low. Always firefighting with little left after them. In such a situation and these conditions, you wonder if it would pay to have one or both of your best batters take charge and bat in the top order and let the newer batters ease themselves into international cricket. Right now, in these conditions, top three is the more difficult place to bat. There is more impact to be made there.
However, it is not as straightforward as that. You can see why Zimbabwe might want to have some meat down the order. They don't want to be in a position where if their best batters get out to the new ball, the rest just fold. They will point to the two chases against Bangladesh where the presence of quality down the order helped them recover.
It can also be argued that what is at the top is the future of Zimbabwe cricket, and Raza and Williams were even being moved on before Dave Houghton took over as the coach. So pushing them up is not the long-term solution Zimbabwe are looking for. To make them bat out of position can be counterproductive. Raza last batted in the top three in List A cricket in 2015, and Williams in 2019.
It is a difficult to be a decision-maker. Houghton recently told ESPNcricinfo that if you pick ten other best cricketers from among the domestic franchises, the ability will be hardly any different. So it is perhaps for the best that they stick with the guys who are struggling so that they can learn from their experience and be part of long-term solutions.
Then again, it is tempting to wonder what if one of the two seniors were batting with them before it got to 29 for 3.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo