CANBERRA. — Zimbabwe plunge into their ICC World Cup 2015 Group B assignment against a ragged West Indies side here full of confidence knowing that victory will set up a March 7 showdown against an in-form Ireland with a likely quarter-final berth on offer to the winners.
The match at the Manuka Oval gets underway at 5.30am this morning.
Rarely have the Zimbabweans gone into a contest against another Test side carrying so much hope that they can battle, toe-to-toe, with their opponents and they even have a good chance of winning this showdown.
“We need to take this momentum into the game against the West Indies,” skipper Elton Chigumbura said.
“Hopefully we can polish up our fielding and have a good game in all departments.
“They are good wickets here. They don’t turn much. Our focus since we came here, we have been playing good cricket, so we just need to carry on the way we are doing and try and forget about the negative that happened in Bangladesh.”
Chigumbura needs three wickets to become the second Zimbabwean — Grant Flower is the other — to achieve the ODI double of 3 000 runs and 100 wickets.
New coach Dav Whatmore has transformed this Zimbabwean side after taking over following a disastrous tour of Bangladesh.
“I got a sense of genuineness to turn things around, especially from the players,” Whatmore, who guided Sri Lanka to victory 19 years ago, said.
“I am always an optimist but I am going in with my eyes wide open. They can play and they are tough enough. They’re just looking for more of what they need to perform.”
Zimbabwe believe the guile of Whatmore can help them spring a World Cup upset by beating the Windies.
The two teams are level on points and the Zimbabwean cricketers responding well to the much-travelled Whatmore’s words.
Hamilton Masakadza says the coach has made an immediate mark upon the team.
“The coach has had a very big impact for us. He’s changed a couple of things and he’s really got the guys going in a certain direction, and that’s been working really well for us,” Masakadza said.
“I think the atmosphere within the team has been really good now. The guys are really working hard and the guys are very focused.
“I think even beyond this World Cup, we’re expecting a lot of good things to happen, because we’ve had a few problems in the past with administration and things like that.
“I think that’s also getting better. Guys are a little bit more focused on the actual cricket and giving the cricket side a little bit more of what they need.
“I think looking forward and going ahead, I think things are looking up.”
Masakadza, who top-scored with 80 in Zimbabwe’s creditable first-up loss to South Africa before his side defeated the United Arab Emirates, said Whatmore had complied plenty of information for the team ahead of the West Indies game.
“The coach got quite a bit of information yesterday (Sunday) when we got here, so we basically have a really good idea what it’s going to be like out there,” the batsman said.
“I think it’s going to be really important to start off well, both with our batting and our bowling, because I think their top order is very dangerous.
“We mustn’t let them get away from us too quickly, and similarly, the batting, Pakistan were four down early (against the West Indies on Saturday), and you can’t really recover from a position like that.
“We just have to make sure that we start early, both with bat and with ball.”
Masakadza, playing at his first World Cup, said Zimbabwe would have the plans to deal with the West Indies and their potentially destructive opener Chris Gayle.
“They’ve had a bit of a mixed tournament so far, so we just come along with our plans, planning for them to be on top of their game and being able to deal with them being on top of their game,” he said.
“Chris Gayle is a good player. We all know that. He hasn’t really got runs so far.
“But we have our plans against him and have our plans against all the different batters, and hopefully we fire up front and get a few wickets early.”
Chris Gayle is 79 short of 9 000 ODI runs, while Brendan Taylor is 88 short of 5 000.
After tripping up against Ireland, West Indies picked themselves up with an emphatic win over Pakistan, but they will have to maintain that level of performance to make sure there are no more stumbling blocks in their path to the quarter-finals.
Zimbabwe have assembled a pretty solid batting line-up on paper, with quality in the middle order and a couple of good finishers lower down.
But while that stood out against both South Africa and UAE, the bowling is inconsistent, particularly in the death overs.
They gave up 146 runs in the last 10 overs against South Africa, and 81 against UAE.
This is potentially their biggest worry going into the game against a West Indies side that has twice made 300-plus totals despite Chris Gayle not firing.
While West Indies will be delighted with the form of their lower-middle order, where Lendl Simmons, Darren Sammy, Denesh Ramdin and Andre Russell have all scored vital runs, they can’t afford to keep making poor starts.
Gayle has made only one half-century in his last 19 innings, a run stretching back to June 2013, and Dwayne Smith has looked unconvincing as an opener, particularly when the new ball moves around.
Darren Bravo hasn’t recovered from the hamstring injury that forced him to retire hurt against Pakistan, and Jonathan Carter will take his place.
If Tinashe Panyangara and Tendai Chatara make inroads early on, they might just catch the West Indies middle order on an off day.
Chamu Chibhabha made a half-century against South Africa with an injured knee and missed Zimbabwe’s next game, against UAE.
He has failed a couple of fitness tests since then, but the team management will only take a call on him today and choose between Stuart Matsikenyeri and Regis Chakabva in case he can’t play.
Solomon Mire also has a small niggle, and could make way for Prosper Utseya if ruled out. — Reuters/Cricinfo/Sports Reporter.