Emotional Chevrons target T20I series victory
Senior Sports Reporter
AFTER experiencing emotional lows in the past month, Zimbabwe national cricket team captain Craig Ervine feels the Chevrons should aim to win the T20I series against Ireland as a tribute to former fielding coach Shepherd Makunura and his wife Sinikiwe Mpofu who passed away a few weeks apart.
Makunura, who died on December 15, was the fielding coach of the side while Mpofu, who was buried in Bulawayo yesterday, was the assistant coach of the senior national women’s team.
The last month has been difficult for Zimbabwe Cricket following the double tragedy. Ervine said the cricket family has gone through a range of emotions, with the Chevrons hit hard, especially after losing a member of the team.
“When anybody passes away, it’s an extremely sad moment and it’s always going to be emotional when it’s somebody within our cricketing family.
“I think the last few weeks have been tough for Zimbabwe Cricket as a whole. But we always have to show our support from the cricketing side and keep moving forward. This series will be a tribute to Shepherd and his wife. I think it’s an emotional time,” said Ervine.
Zimbabwe are set to host Ireland in a white-ball series comprising three T20I matches and as many One Day Internationals at Harare Sports Club.
The series kicks-off with the first T20I game at Harare Sports Club this afternoon (1pm). Then there is going to be a double header set for Saturday and Sunday, to be followed by three One Day Internationals next week.
Ervine wants the Chevrons to exploit home advantage as the Chevrons go out in search of their first T20I series win against their bogey side.
This is the first international engagement for both teams since their participation at the ICC T20 World Cup in Australia two months back.
“We have had a nice little break, a little reset,” said Ervine.
“Obviously, we were playing domestic cricket through December but I think everybody is very excited to start off the new year with a series against Ireland and especially here at home.
“So there has been a lot of energy over the last couple of training sessions. Everybody is looking forward to the series ahead.”
Zimbabwe and Ireland have featured in some close encounters in the past. Interestingly, Ireland have won more T20Is in the meetings between the two sides. Zimbabwe and Ireland have faced each other in nine T20I matches, with the Irish claiming five wins compared to Zimbabwe’s four.
The teams met for the first time at the T20 World Cup in Bangladesh and the Irish won by three wickets in 2014. Zimbabwe then toured Ireland in 2019 and the T20I series ended with each team winning a game apiece in the two-match contest.
But Zimbabwe suffered a 2-3 defeat the last time they toured the European country in 2021. But they hit back on their last encounter at the last T20 World Cup in Australia where Zimbabwe romped to a 31-runs win.
The Chevrons carry a psychological edge following the recent ICC T20 World Cup win.
It is also interesting that this will be the first time the teams are playing a T20I against each other in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe have been doing well at Harare Sports Club of late, where fans have given the team some home comforts.
In fact, Zimbabwe played some of their best cricket in recent years in the second half of 2022, leading to the T20 World Cup.
“It’s very exciting to be back playing in front of our home crowd. We felt the support during the T20 World Cup and again it’s a key part of how we start this year.
“You know we created a lot of momentum towards the back end of last year. So we would like to start like that again this year and start off with winning ways and draw more crowds to our home games scheduled this year,” said Ervine. The Chevrons have been a changed outfit since the arrival of head coach Dave Houghton last June. The Zimbabwean cricket legend has not made it a secret he wants the form to continue in 2023.
“It’s pretty much the same as what he spoke about last year. We want to play fearless cricket; we want to play entertaining cricket but there is a fine line between being positive and being reckless and that’s the little balance that we have to try and get right from this series onwards,” said Ervine.
But both teams will be missing some key players. Zimbabwe will be without in-form all-rounder Sikandar Raza and Blessing Muzarabani.
Raza, who has been Zimbabwe’s main man in recent months, was granted permission to participate in the Bangladesh Premier League while Muzarabani is struggling with a quadriceps injury. Cricket Ireland have confirmed at least three key players will miss the first part of the tour as they have been given the green light to participate in T20 cricket franchise tournaments around the globe.
Veteran batsman Paul Stirling and Lorcan Tucker have been granted approval to miss the T20I series and play in the new International League T20 in UAE, while Josh Little will miss the T20I series to play in the SA20 which began this week in South Africa and will run until February 11. The players will join the rest of the squad in Zimbabwe for the one-day series.
“Look, they are missing two key players and I will probably say that we are also missing two key players in Sikandar Raza and Blessing Muzarabani.
“But we are having this series on our home turf and that should give us an advantage. We know that the Irish are tough opponents and we can’t take them lightly at all,’’ Ervine said.
Zimbabwe also have some interesting additions to their squad and will select between two young players Tadiwanashe Marumani and Clive Madande for a new wicket-keeper following the departure of experienced hand, Regis Chakabva.
“I think it’s an opportunity for both of them to show their skills as a keeper. It will be interesting but I think Clive has been around the set up for a little bit longer.
“He has toured with us a few times and he has been in the squad. So we are really looking forward to either of them getting an opportunity in this series and we see how it goes,” said Ervine.
But it will be interesting to see how top order batsman Gary Ballance, who recently switched allegiance from England, will fit into the team.
“Looking at the way Gary bats, I am pretty sure he will be quite high up the order and I think we have been trying to keep a mix of left and right handers,” said Ervine.
The left-handed batter Ballance – who played 23 Tests and 16 one-day internationals for England between 2014 and 2017 – recently signed a two-year contract to play domestic and international cricket in and for the country of his birth following his release from county cricket side Yorkshire.
Zimbabwe T20I squad:
Craig Ervine (captain), Gary Ballance, Ryan Burl, Tendai Chatara, Bradley Evans, Luke Jongwe, Innocent Kaia, Clive Madande, Wessly Madhevere, Tadiwanashe Marumani, Wellington Masakadza, Tony Munyonga, Richard Ngarava, Victor Nyauchi, Sean Williams
Ireland T20I squad:
Andrew Balbirnie (captain), Mark Adair, Ross Adair, Curtis Campher, Gareth Delany, George Dockrell, Stephen Doheny, Fionn Hand, Graham Hume, Tyrone Kane, Barry McCarthy, Neil Rock, Harry Tector, Ben White.