Nothing to smile about

HARARE - As 2012 draws to an end, it would be safe to say that Zimbabwean cricket fans had very little to smile about.

The year got off to a disastrous start when the team embarked on a tour of New Zealand which had the makings of being a good and exciting tour.

Zimbabwe last toured New Zealand back in December 2000, and had a very successful tour, as they held New Zealand to a draw in the One-Off Test match, and won the ODI series 2-1.

Despite the Black Caps winning most of the games when they visited Zimbabwe in October 2011, there was a sense of anticipation when the two teams squared up in the return series in January.

Everybody was still talking about New Zealand’s lucky escape in the One-Off Test match in Bulawayo, when a combination of inexperience and panic saw Zimbabwe spectacularly snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Never-the-less, New Zealand would have been a little weary of their close brush with humiliation, and would have been prepared for another hard fought battle.

The local media made quite a hype of Brendan Taylor and his team, and fans back home were fully expecting a contest at the very least.

But, sadly, there was no contest of any description as the teams took to the field, as Zimbabwe were trounced by an innings and 301 runs. This was a huge setback after the promise Zimbabwe showed in the last year in Bulawayo.

It was not the fact that Zimbabwe lost, but the manner in which they lost that really hurt. Most people were more than likely expecting New Zealand to win, not because of Zimbabwe’s inability, but because of the fact that it was Zimbabwe’s first away test in seven years.

It was a tour that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons, as the team showed no signs whatsoever of holding their ground and being competitive.

The problem that Zimbabwe had throughout the year was the lack of international cricket that came their way with long gaps between fixtures.

Although the next tour was unofficial and therefore counted for nothing, Zimbabwe played some of the best all-round cricket for some considerable period of time when they took on Bangladesh and South Africa in the Pran RFL Triangular Series in June.

South Africa decided that both Bangladesh and Zimbabwe would not pose much of a threat, and left out four of their key players which backfired on them as they were embarrassingly outplayed for the majority of the tournament.

Zimbabwe however, showed signs and glimpses of the team they were back in the late 90s and early 2000’s with some tremendous team performances.

Hamilton Masakadza was outstanding at the top of the order, amassing 267 runs at an average of 66.75, with a highest score of 62 at a healthy strike rate of 128.36.

But there were also solid performances from Vusi Sibanda, Taylor, Graeme Cremer, Chris Mpofu and the very impressive Richard Muzhange, who was outstanding in the middle overs, and brilliant at the death as he consistently found the block hole with yorker after yorker and immediately gained recognition as well as gratitude from Taylor, referring to Muzhange as his go to man in pressure situations.

After Zimbabwe’s emphatic nine-wicket win against South Africa in the final, people, in particular the South African fraternity were very quick to point out the fact that the series was unofficial and that they never really cared about the results as it was all about preparing for the Twenty20 World Cup.

While all the on field excitement was happening, there was growing concern about Tatenda Taibu and a finger injury that prevented him from being part of the victorious team.

There was a certain amount of speculation and discussion amongst players and the media as to his future and his desire to be part of the team, as the memory of his revelations of players not being paid were still fresh in everybody’s minds, and so, it came as no real surprise when he announced his immediate retirement from all forms of cricket in order to serve and follow God instead.

Although his announcement was not entirely unexpected, it still left a big gap in the team which up to now has not been filled, as he was by far and away the countries best wicketkeeper and his experience and knowledge of the game would also have been a big loss to the team.

Taibu’s decision to retire was so much more than a good player immaturely deciding to bring his career to an end, but it would undoubtedly have affected thousands of young Zimbabwean cricketers who looked up to him, and who regarded him as an icon and an inspiration.

The year also saw the retirement of long standing and controversial managing director Ozias Bvute, who some regarded as the cause of Zimbabwe cricket’s rapid freefall and decline, while others saw him as Zimbabwe cricket’s saviour, who saved the country from the minority who supposedly ran cricket with an iron fist.

Either way, Bvute was a larger than life character, who had the ability of making people listen to what he had to say, and was also very instrumental in luring some of the older players to come back as coaches and administrators, and in the process, gained the respect and admiration of fans, players and members of the media, who up to then had made a point of either avoiding him, or ripping him to sheds in the press.

After the country’s success in the unofficial triangular series, hopes were once again revived when the team went to Sri Lanka for the ICC Twenty20 World Cup in September, but again, hopes were dashed after another shambolic performance when they were hopelessly outplayed by a full strength South African team, and the hosts Sri Lanka.

Many questions were asked, and fingers were pointed. Was the coaching staff to blame? Or was the team simply not good enough?

We have to acknowledge that the team has played very little international cricket this year, but can we really use this as an excuse?

How much longer do we have to come up with excuses for a team that have shown no real signs of progression over the last eight years? Is there some sort of assistance that the players need but are not getting?

Why has the fielding that was once the country’s pride and joy become so inexcusably bad? Or do we have to face facts and admit that these players simply are not good enough to be playing international cricket?

It would be a very sad fact if that was the case, and one truly hopes that it would never be necessary to make such a damming statement.

Zimbabwe cricket will also mourn the untimely loss of another controversial but highly influential figure, Kevin Curran.

His passion for the game and desire to win will never be forgotten and will hopefully encourage players to raise their game.

All in all, 2012 was a year with more sadness than happiness, and one can only hope that 2013 will give us more to smile about. - Dean du Plessis

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