NELSON. — The days have long passed when Zimbabwe were just happy to be at the World Cup and their bowlers can realistically hope to have more success restricting the batsmen of the United Arab Emirates here tomorrow than they did against South Africa. This year, the Zimbabweans are making their ninth straight appearance at cricket’s greatest spectacle.
They may still be regarded as one of the big underdogs but that’s not how they view themselves, and have the results over a long time to prove it.
Before the end of the 1990s, Zimbabwe had beaten every major cricket playing country at least once in a one-day International.
In 1999 and 2003 they made it to the Super Six stage of the World Cup.
They beat Australia last year and they won a lot of credit for the manner they battled against South Africa in their opening game on Sunday despite ending on the losing side.
“It gives us a lot of confidence. It gives us a lot of the belief that we do need as a team, that it’s possible to beat a big team,” said Zimbabwe captain Elton Chigumbura.
“Looking at the results before, people can call us small team but I believe this tournament, if we play our best cricket, the tables will change.
“Looking at the games that we have played recently, there are good signs. Guys are believing that they belong here, so now it’s obviously about the main games, we just don’t have to panic.”
Zimbabwe are not without any chance of progressing in the tournament.
Drawn in Pool B with South Africa, India, Pakistan, West Indies, Ireland and United Arab Emirates, they will probably have to win three games to reach the quarter-finals.
They will start as clear favourites to beat the UAE and slight favourites to beat Ireland, with the West Indies looming as perhaps the key match.
Chigumbura’s team made a decent fist of chasing 339 for four in Hamilton on Sunday, eventually bowled out 62 runs short against one of the tournament favourites.
That 2015 baptism against their neighbours always promised a tough and almost certainly unequal task for Zimbabwe, and after some early promise with the ball, they duly ran into a record-breaking and unbroken stand of 256 between South Africa centurions David Miller and JP Duminy. Only spinners Tafadzwa Kamungozi and Sean Williams emerged with respectable figures, pace bowler Solomon Mire suffering most by conceding 61 runs in six wicketless overs.
The UAE have been known to pile into opposition attacks too, and it was veteran Khurram Khan who took them mighty close in their final warm-up match against tournament debutants Afghanistan in pursuit of 308 for nine at Melbourne’s Junction Oval ground last week.
But even on the compact playing area in Nelson, where Ireland memorably chased more than 300 to get their campaign off to a flier against West Indies, Zimbabwe can be heartened that the assault may not be quite so sustained this time.
Khan, of course, will be among those hoping otherwise. At 43, though, albeit with only 13 international appearances under his belt for a country who have limited opportunity to play at this level, he knows better than to invite extra pressure.
The left-handed linchpin of the UAE’s middle order said: “I am just happy to be here.
“I am having the best time of my life.
“Cricketing-wise, if you see my performance the last couple of years it is amazing, and I am enjoying every moment of it.” — sporting life/dna