CHERVONS, IRELAND CLASH UNDER LIGHTS
Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter
AFTER missing out at the recent ICC Cricket World Cup 2023 in India, Zimbabwe and Ireland appear to agree it is now time to rest their systems as they begin their white ball rivalry under floodlights at Harare Sports Club this evening.
The Chevrons, who will be playing in their first series after also failing to qualify for the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2024 in disastrous fashion recently in Namibia, have made changes to their team in the hope of turning around their fortunes ahead of the first T20I today.
The match begins at 6pm.
Ireland are in Zimbabwe for three T20Is and as many One Day Internationals. Both teams were not part of the jamboree during the ICC Cricket World Cup held in India recently and would want to forget the disappointment as quickly as possible as they look to reposition themselves for the future.
“Certainly for us, I think it’s a fresh start and I think, first and foremost, it was disappointing that we weren’t there but to be honest I think we have gotten over it,” Ireland captain Paul Stirling told journalists yesterday.
“It’s been quite a long time; since we have been in Zimbabwe for the qualifiers. We didn’t have the best time. So, I think in both formats, it’s a bit of a new start and for our players it’s sort of a building phase for us.
“We are going to go to the T20 World Cup in the not so distant future in the USA and the Caribbean and that’s probably the start of our process in T20,” said Stirling.
Unlike the Irish, Zimbabwe will not be going to any World Cup any time soon and the recent debacle in the T20 World Cup qualifiers has dealt a huge dent on the nation’s confidence in the team.
Veteran batter Craig Ervine, who stood in for skipper Sikandar Raza at yesterday’s press conference, said the series against Ireland could not have come at a better time as they seek to make amends.
“Ireland are obviously a good side,” he said.
“They bring a lot of energy, a lot of unity and I think a lot of our guys will be really happy to be back in familiar conditions back home; playing in front of our home crowd. So I think everybody is looking forward to the series.
“It’s a very important series. Obviously, the last few weeks have been difficult for everybody, not just the players but the organisation and the supporters; I think the whole country has been quite disappointed.
“So, the timing of this series is perfect . . . So, for us to come up with some really good performances is of vital importance to lift the country’s morale and also that of the team,” said Ervine.
Skipper Sikandar Raza, who has been playing in the Abu Dhabi T10 in the past few days, is expected home in time for the games.
It is also interesting to note how the Zimbabwe team will line up after selectors made four changes by dropping Wellington Masakadza, Tendai Chatara, Innocent Kaia and Nick Welch from the squad that featured at the recent qualifiers in Namibia.
The two uncapped players — former Under-19 have been given a chance to have a feel of international cricket. Bennett is a middle order batter while Gwandu is a fast bowler.
Apart from the two uncapped youngsters, leg spinner, Brandon Mavuta and batter Tony Munyonga have also returned to the national team set-up.
“Obviously there are some new faces in the squad and these are changes that have maybe come from the qualifiers,” said Ervine.
“But having said that, as a player I don’t really get involved in all of those decisions and things that go on a little higher up.
“For now our focus is mainly just on obviously turning out for this series and making sure that we play the brand of cricket that we have been playing at home over the last one and half years.
“I think they (the new players) have fitted in very well. Obviously they have done some really good things in the domestic set up and the National Premier League. So they thoroughly de-serve their chance. It will be exciting to see how they go against Ireland,” said Ervine.
Apart from Ervine and Raza, Zimbabwe also have some of their regular players like Blessing Muzarabani, Ryan Burl, Sean Williams, Richard Ngarava and Wessly Madhevere, to look up to.
Ireland, to be led by Stirling in his first stint as substantive captain, have brought a strong squad that has the likes of Andrew Balbirnie, Curtis Campher, Gareth Delany, George Dockrell, Josh Little, Harry Tector and Lorcan Tucker.
Stirling said his opinion of Zimbabwe has not changed despite the Chevrons’ woes in recent weeks in Namibia where they lost important matches to Uganda and the hosts to lose out on a T20 World Cup ticket.
“I don’t think that has changed my opinion at all on Zimbabwe or Zimbabwean Cricket . . . We know they are a strong team. In fact, we cannot rest on our laurels based on previous results.
“We have never won a series in Zimbabwe. So I think there is absolutely no reason to take Zimbabwe either lightly or to think that we cannot be anything but our best to win the game. So we need to be at our peak,” said Stirling.
Zimbabwe T20I squad:
Sikandar Raza (captain), Brian Bennett, Ryan Burl, Craig Ervine, Trevor Gwandu, Luke Jong-we, Clive Madande, Wessly Madhevere, Tadiwanashe Marumani, Brandon Mavuta, Carl Mumba, Tony Munyonga, Blessing Muzarabani, Richard Ngarava, Sean Williams.
Ireland T20I squad:
Paul Stirling (Capt), Mark Adair, Ross Adair, Andrew Balbirnie, Curtis Campher, Gareth Delany, George Dockrell, Josh Little, Graham Hume, Barry McCarthy, Neil Rock, Harry Tector, Lorcan Tucker, Theo van Woerkom, Craig Young