One step forward, two steps back

HARARE - Tuesday was one of those days when the batting went to sleep, and never woke up.

 Before the first ball was bowled, Zimbabwe were already dealt a crippling blow when the in-form Craig Ervine was declared unavailable due to an asthma attack.

 According to reports, Ervine had suffered the attack in the second One-Day International, which was played on Sunday.

 If it was an asthma attack, and there is no reason to doubt the prognoses, the fact that Ervine was able to play would have been close to a minor miracle.

 When a person suffers an asthma or even a bad breathing attack, he or she normally needs to be ventilated and kept very quiet for a few hours, which would explain why he was unable to play on Tuesday.

 So the selectors were forced to making a change and unfortunately, it didn't work.

 Zimbabwe got off to a painfully slow start, thanks in the main to Tinotenda Mawoyo, who found the going extremely tough at the top of the innings as Tino Best gave him a proper working over with a barrage of very fast and well directed bouncers that had Mawoyo in a right old tangle.

 Vusi Sibanda once again looked like he was set for a big hundred before both he and Brendan Taylor gave their wickets away when they appeared to be well set.

 This is a problem that has haunted Zimbabwe cricket for many a year.

 Players such as Craig Wishart and Alistair Campbell are but a few who got starts, but then gave it away by playing a rush shot and losing their wicket in the process.

 When analysing a player such as Vusi Sibanda, the first question that needs to be asked is, is Vusi putting in enough work ethic?

 My personal opinion is that he probably is. If he wasn't, you wouldn't see him play shots such as his trademark cover drive, or the authority in which he plays the pull and hook shot with.

 The biggest demon that Vusi is confronted with right now is himself. He has to understand the importance of batting through the innings.

 He has a wonderful approach to batting and cricket in general. But he has to know when to play which shot and at which point of the innings certain shots are required.

 He has looked the most accomplished batsman on tour, but, sadly, his scores of 18, 51 and 41 don't give a true reflection of how comfortable he looked at the crease.

 However, Vusi may possibly argue that his work has been made very difficult by the opening partners he has had up to now, and that argument may have some very valid points.

 Both Chamu Chibhabha and Tino Mawoyo did Sibanda no favours by the way they went about their innings.

 In a Test match, Mawoyo is the perfect foil for Sibanda. The two of them complement each other very nicely.

 Mawoyo is the perfect example of the Test opener. He is resolute and has a solid technique with a sound defence. Which in turn allows the free-flowing Sibanda to keep the scoreboard ticking.

 Even in Test cricket, it is still of the utmost importance to insure that the scoreboard is ticking, and that the strike is been rotated, which is why Sibanda and Mawoyo complement each other so well.

Limited-overs cricket is another matter entirely. Both batsmen have to be sharp and alert to possibilities of taking quick singles, as well as capitalising on balls that are mis-directed.

 Sibanda may possibly be feeling that it is up to him to keep the momentum going and so doing, often finds himself losing his wicket, as he tries to up the tempo.

 Like the rest of the major cricketing nations, Zimbabwe have had a number of opening combinations in limited-overs cricket.

 Some of them have worked, while others have backfired rather badly.

 We have seen the likes of the Flower brothers open the batting, and at times, they would be scoring at seven runs to the over, giving one the impression that they were scoring boundaries.

 But, in truth, Andrew and Grant relied on very snappy running between the wickets and their supreme fitness. Then, in other instances, you would see Alistair Campbell open the batting with Grant.

 This was also a very successful partnership, with Campbell finding the boundary, and Flower running hard between the wickets in order to keep Campbell on strike.

 So our next port of call in this topic is selection.

 The question is, what is the criteria players need to be selected?

 At first, I used to be disappointed and at times downright angry with those members of the media who continuously made statements that certain players were selected because of the franchise they play for, or because of who they know.

 These are still very serious allegations, and people making them would be well advised to have all their ducks in a row and be very sure that they will be able to back up their statements.

 But when you look at some of the players, you can't help but wonder how they could possibly have been included.

 Two players who come to mind are Regis Chakabva and Chamu Chibhabha.

 Both are seasoned campaigners who have been in the various systems for a long time, but, in truth, have lacked consistency.

 They have shown momentarily glimpses, but, nothing else.

 For example, CHAKABVA’S Pro50 record for 2012-13 reads:

 Games played, 8.

 Innings batted, 7.

 Runs scored, 142.

 Average, 23.66.

 Strike rate, 60.16.

 Highest score, 42.

CHIBHABHA:

 Matches played, 8.

 Innings played, 7.

 Runs scored, 92.

 Average, 13.14.

 Highest score, 36.

 Strike rate, 55,42.

 These aren't lower-order batsmen, but experienced top and middle-order batsmen who have had a lean time at franchise level, and yet still find themselves playing for the national team.

 On a more upbeat note, there is absolutely no doubt that the spin bowling department, and in particular the leg-spinning department, is alive and well.

 Both Natsai Mushangwe and Tinotenda Mutombodzi are probably still smiling after their outstanding efforts.

 Their performances weren't match-winning, but the composure, maturity and enthusiasm they displayed gave the impression that they were much older and wiser than their tender age of 22.

 Both exude confidence, which Mutombodzi should find very easy to do given the fact that his middle name also happens to be Confidence.

 The confidence these two youngsters exude isn't arrogant or swaggering, but just enough to let the opposition know that they aren't afraid of them.

 So now, the selectors are facing a rather interesting dilemma as to whether they should be included in the Test squad or not.

 The first inclination would be to pick them without any hesitation. But it may be a good idea to take a deep breath, and think very carefully as to how to nurture them.

 Their introduction to ODI cricket was successful, but this is where playing four-day cricket for the A side becomes very important.

 It would be wonderful if the A side could go on a lengthy tour where they played three to five four-day matches against top opposition on different pitches.

 Players would learn to adapt their skills as well as mentally toughen up for Test cricket. - Dean du Plessis

*Leading Zimbabwean cricket writer and broadcaster Dean du Plessis, who was born blind, is a Daily News on Sunday columnist and regular contributor to the Daily News. He can be contacted by e-mail: dean.duplessis77@gmail.com, or Skype: dean.du.plessis31.

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