Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
THE Chevrons’ sensational victory in Bangladesh yesterday, to complete a stunning comeback to level the four-match Twenty20 International series, should provide inspiration for the Warriors in their swim-or-sink 2016 CHAN Group D showdown against Mali in Rubavu today.
Down 0-2 after the first two matches in Khulna, including a morale-sapping 42-run comprehensive defeat in the second game, Zimbabwe’s cricketers appeared heading for another series loss, and a possible whitewash, against the Tigers who have been impressive, if not unbeatable, in the past year.
Dubbed the Year of the Tigers, 2015 saw Bangladesh qualify for the quarter-finals of the ICC Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, after beating England along the way, whitewashing Pakistan 4-0 in an ODI series, beating India 2-1 in another ODI series and sealing a memorable 2-1 triumph over South Africa in yet another ODI series.
With the Chevrons struggling, including losing a recent series against Afghanistan, the good money was on Bangladesh to seal another comprehensive triumph in their conditions and when they powered to a 2-0 lead, in the first two matches, the Tigers looked well on course to secure that series triumph.
But the Chevrons refused to bury their heads in the sand and, with Hamilton Masakadza and Vusi Sibanda outstanding at the top of their batting order, they won the third match, setting a target that proved beyond the reach of the hosts with their spinners doing all the damage in the Tigers’ fruitless run chase.
And, yesterday, Masakadza again proved the rock on which Zimbabwe built their competitive 180, with the veteran scoring an unbeaten 93, the highest total by a Zimbabwean in a Twenty20 International, while Neville Madziva and Tendai Chisoro destroyed the Tigers’ top order, reducing them to 17-4, and effectively ending the contest.
Masakadza’s 222 runs in the four matches is also a world record for most runs plundered in a Twenty20 International bilateral series and, after having been dropped for poor form, he has bounced back in spectacular fashion and looks set to be named captain following impressive performances in that role on this tour in the wake of Elton Chigumbura’s resignation yesterday.
Madziva took four wickets, including the final one to fall and seal the match for 34 runs while Chisoro backed him well with 3-17, as the Tigers fell short in their chase and Zimbabwe celebrated a sensational victory that levelled the series.
Luke Jongwe, the 20-year-old right arm fast medium bowler, who took the key wicket of Bangladesh skipper, Mashrafe Mortaza, and also two catches during the match, posted a dressing picture on his Twitter account, proudly showing off the trophy, which the two teams shared, while in the company of his teammates Chisoro and Wellington Masakadza.
“It’s always a good time with this Brothers#Mates of [email protected]@tennyc88. Well played guys. @masakadza well batted.”
But can the Chevrons’ never-say-die attitude, which cheered the nation yesterday, inspire the Warriors who have a make-or-break tie against Mali in Rubavu today, where a loss would all but seal their elimination from a tournament where they went in as one of the seeded teams?
Five years ago, the Warriors, under the guidance of Madinda Ndlovu, also lost two of their three group matches at the 2011 CHAN finals, as they crashed out in the first round, but they sandwiched those two defeats with a win over Ghana.
It, therefore, means that should they lose today, it would be the first time in their history in this tournament, where they would have lost back-to-back group matches and, for a team that reached the semi-finals in the last tournament in South Africa, that will be quite depressing.
However, as demonstrated by the Chevrons yesterday, nothing is impossible and skipper Hardlife Zvirekwi and his troops know that the nation expects them to do better than their show against Zambia, where they blew away a number of golden chances before losing 0-1.
That the Warriors created chances, very, very good opportunities, can’t be questioned but somehow they kept blowing them away with Edmore Chirambadare, usually deadly inside the box, missing the best of the two that came our way, including one when he was straight through on goal.
Coach Callisto Pasuwa has promised changes to the team and Rodreck Mutuma, who impressed when he was introduced as a second half substitute, and whose big-match temperament has never been questionable despite his occasional theatrics, could be thrown into the starting XI.
In Bangladesh yesterday, Masakadza, Madziva and Chisoro stood up to be counted and the Warriors also need a number of their players to rise up to the challenge and, rather than wilting under the challenge, derive inspiration from it against an opponent that is unlikely to make it easy for them.
Mali, who picked a point in their first game after a 2-2 draw against Uganda, are a very physical side but they also have the quality in their side with coach Djibril Drame picking a team that is built around the stars of the country’s two dominant sides, Stade Malien (who provide five players) and Djoliba AC, who provide three while Onze Createurs have six men in the squad. Stade Malien, who have 20 league championship titles, have won the Mali Cup 18 times and the Mali Super Cup nine times, have also regularly impressed in the Africa inter-club competitions, winning the CAF Confederation Cup in 2009 while reaching the final of the old African Cup of Club Champions.
Djoliba, their biggest rivals, have won the Mali league championship 22 times, the Mali Cup 19 times, the Mali Super Cup seven times and were runners-up in the CAF Confederation Cup in 2012 and twice semi-finalists in the CAF Cup of Club Champions.
Their squad include three exciting teenagers who were with the Mali Under-17 squad which finished as runners-up at the Under-17 World Cup.
Mali 2016 CHAN squad
Goalkeepers: Djigui Diarra (Stade Malien), Alassane Diallo (CSK), Samuel Diarra (ASKO).
Defenders: Hamed Marius Assako (Onze Créateurs), Ousmane Diarra (Onze Créateurs), Mamadou Doumbia (Stade malien), Abdoul Karim Danté (J. A.), Sékou Diarra (Onze Créateurs), Issaka Samaké (Stade Malien), Lassana Samaké (Onze Créateurs), Oumar Koné (Stade Malien).
Midfielders: Moussa Sissoko (Onze Créateurs), Yaya Samaké (Nianan), Aliou Dieng (Djoliba), Sékou Koïta (USC Kita), Djossé Kodio (Réal), Abdoulaye Diarra (COB), Abdoul Aziz Touré (Réal), Abdoulaye Traoré (Djoliba), N’Tji Samaké (Réal).
Strikers: Mamadou Coulibaly (Stade Malien), Hamidou sinayoko (Djoliba), Lamine Traoré (Onze Créateurs).