Old problems, but new vigour for Zim
THE summer rains have arrived in Zimbabwe. Scattered showers have cooled the countryside after October’s oven, and there is a palpable sense of relief in a country where many depend on agriculture for their livelihood.
Zimbabwe’s national cricket team doesn’t include quite as many farmers (chicken or otherwise) as it once did, but they will also be somewhat relieved to be out of the unfamiliar cauldron of Test cricket and in the more forgiving climes of the limited-overs game.
The scorecards from their Test matches against Sri Lanka will show a pair of huge wins for the visitors, but Zimbabwe captain Graeme Cremer was happy to own the cliché and take some positives out of that series: his own Test hundred, the unearthing of a new talent in Carl Mumba, and a little more grit.
Despite their successes in the Tests, Sri Lanka still have a few concerns. The middle order was a perennial worry in the home series against Australia, which Sri Lanka lost 1-4. Stand-in captain Upul Tharanga only played in one of those games against Australia, but he will now have to lead a side shorn of many of its heavyweights. Zimbabwe are exactly the sort of banana skin he won’t want to slip up on.
Zimbabwe might look to Australia’s performance in those one-dayers for some tips: whenever pressure was built, Sri Lanka lost wickets in clusters. While Zimbabwe don’t have bowlers of Australia’s calibre, several times during the Tests they were able to string together disciplined spells, with Chris Mpofu opening the fourth morning of the second Test with six maidens on the trot.
Test matches allow the time and space to ease that sort of pressure, but ODIs don’t and Cremer suggested before the tri-series that Zimbabwe’s bowlers would aim to nullify Sri Lanka’s scoring options wherever possible. Or at least, that’s the plan. Despite the inexperience of their squad, Sri Lanka will be fancied as favourites in the opener and this tri-series will allow them to feel out some combinations before their rather more testing assignment against South Africa in similar conditions in the new year.
Peter Moor’s batting talent and commitment to the national cricket side are beyond doubt, but multiple errors behind the stumps during the two Tests against Sri Lanka mean his glovework will be in the spotlight on Monday. Zimbabwe have not picked another frontline wicketkeeper in their squad, though Brian Chari might be available to fill in if need arises. So Moor will be under some pressure to put in a cleaner performance.
Upul Tharanga is closing in on 200 ODIs for Sri Lanka, but he has never captained the country in any format. He made runs in both Tests against Zimbabwe, cracking an unbeaten 110 in the first match, and he will look to continue to lead from the front in the ODIs, both for the benefit of the team and to solidify his own position in the XI.
Seamer Tinashe Panyangara’s return from injury will lend a little more experience to Zimbabwe’s bowling line-up, while at the other end of the spectrum, the hosts have included uncapped 22-year-old batsman Tarisai Musakanda in their squad. Musakanda was also with the team for the Tests, though he did not debut. Now, his chance may come at the expense of an underperforming Hamilton Masakadza. Given his workload in the Tests, Zimbabwe may rest seamer Chris Mpofu ahead of the games at his home ground in Bulawayo.
Zimbabwe (possible): 1 Chamu Chibhabha, 2 Brian Chari, 3 Craig Ervine, 4 Hamilton Masakadza/Tarisai Musakanda, 5 Sean Williams, 6 Sikandar Raza, 7 PJ Moor (wk), 8 Graeme Cremer (c), 9 Tendai Chisoro, 10 Carl Mumba, 11 Tinashe Panyangara
Veteran seamer Nuwan Kulasekara, who last played an ODI at the beginning of this year, has been recalled to Sri Lanka’s squad, having also played in the final game of Sri Lanka A’s limited overs series against West Indies A at the end of October, taking 2 for 65. Kulasekara will bring a wealth of experience to Sri Lanka’s attack. Sri Lanka have multiple wicketkeeping and spin options to sift through, with Jeffrey Vandersay returning from a finger injury and in good form after his six-for in the series win against West Indies A last month.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Dhananjaya de Silva, 2 Niroshan Dickwella, 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Upul Tharanga (c), 5 Kusal Perera (wk), 6 Dasun Shanaka, 7 Shehan Jayasuriya, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Jeffrey Vandersay, 10 Suranga Lakmal, 11 Nuwan Pradeep
Harare Sports Club’s trend of producing somewhat lifeless pitches means that, while the ball may not be going round corners, batsmen will still have to toil for their runs, and it may not be easy to force the pace first up. There is plenty of rain about at the moment, particularly in the late afternoon, and scattered thunderstorms are expected around Harare on Monday.
Sri Lanka’s stand-in captain Upul Tharanga doesn’t expect the toss to play an important role in the limitedovers matches.
“We learned a lot about the conditions here and the wickets during the Tests , very different to Sri Lanka! I don’t think the toss is going to make a huge difference. The wicket isn’t going to change that much.”
“Playing at home, we know these conditions. If we play well on the day, I don’t think we will be an underdog. We also play a lot more white ball cricket than we do red ball cricket,” said Zimbabwe captain Graeme Cremer. Stats and trivia
This will be Kulasekara’s fourth tour of Zimbabwe. The seaming allrounder has previously visited in 2004, 2008 and 2010, when he was part of the Sri Lankan side that won a tri-series, also featuring India.
Sri Lanka have played 47 ODIs against Zimbabwe, winning 39.
Zimbabwe’s last win against Sri Lanka came six years ago at Harare Sports Club. Six of the members of that playing XI are part of their current squad.
Form guide LLLLW (completed matches, most
Zimbabwe: recent first) Sri Lanka: LLLWL — ESPNCricinfo
Zimbabwe would welcome the change of format after giving a poor account of themselves in the Test series. — AP