Zim target clean sweep Dave Houghton

Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter

THE Zimbabwe national cricket team has a good chance to seal the One Day International series if they upstage Ireland in the second match at Harare Sports Club today.

The Chevrons lead the three-match contest 1-0 following a nail-biting three-wicket win over the visiting Irish team on Wednesday.

However, Ireland are likely to turn up more determined to keep the series alive. Both teams however will be praying that rainfall stays away.

The weather forecasts have predicted grim prospects, as “a combination of stormy, cloudy and rainy weather is anticipated.” Most of the rainfall, however, is expected late in the afternoon. The fans, as well, will keep their fingers crossed as a big crowd is expected at Harare Sports Club today. Zimbabwe all-rounder Sikandar Raza has pledged match tickets for 100 lucky fans, as appreciation for the incredible backing the team has received at home.

Spain-based Zimbabwean footballer Tino Kadewere also bought 100 tickets that were distributed on Star FM’s Daily Sports Zone yesterday.

The second ODI between the two sides has been dedicated to the late national team coaches Sinikiwe Mpofu and Shepherd Makunura.

The couple died three weeks apart, recently, and Zimbabwe Cricket have pledged to hand over all the proceeds from the match to their two children. Makunura was the Zimbabwe men’s fielding coach while Mpofu was assistant coach in the Zimbabwe Women’s team.

Zimbabwe, who beat Ireland 2-1 in the T20I series, are looking to end the tour on a high and their coach Dave Houghton has not made it a secret.

“We are going to the ODI series now and our target is still the same, try and win every game that we play and try and win the series. Hopefully it’s 3-0 but if it’s 2-1 I will take it again,” said Houghton at the start of the series.

The Zimbabwe cricket legend said it was critical for the team to go on a winning run, on their return to the international scene two months after their participation at the ICC T20 World Cup.

“When you have a break for two months and when you come back together it’s important that you get straight back on to that winning norm because we could easily have lost the T20I series and suddenly our turn in fortunes could have gone backwards as quickly as it went forwards. So it’s good for me that we got off to a winning start and we have got to maintain it.

“We have got a tough two-and-half months, with the ODI series now and then two Test matches (against West Indies next month). We are a kind of establishment that doesn’t have two different squads. We don’t have enough players for that.

“Our players are playing in all the formats. So, if you go into the Test series, for example and then lose, that can knock your ODI form back as well. So we have got to make sure that we keep the standard at home,” said Houghton.

Zimbabwe, however, have to work hard with their top order batting, which has been problematic for some time. The Chevrons also struggled in the field in the first match as they conceded 288/4, with two players hitting centuries.

But it’s the batting that needs fixing more than anything. Innocent Kaia may keep his place but there is uncertainty with fellow opener Wessly Madhevere, who is struggling to find his best form.

Experience is also likely to be key for Zimbabwe who expect more from skipper Craig Ervine, Gary Ballance, Sikandar Raza and Ryan Burl, who was Man of the Match the last time out. “We have quite a simple strategy when we bowl and we back it up with electric fielding. That’s what has kept us in so many games. Our batting is our weakness.

“It’s going to get better, we hope. The more we play the more the guys grow, the more the maturity in batting gets better,” said Houghton.

While Zimbabwe are missing all-rounder Sean Williams because of a finger injury, Ireland were dealt a bigger blow as their captain Andrew Balbirnie has been ruled out of the remainder of the tour after suffering a head injury during the first ODI.

Balbirnie had just registered his eighth ODI century for Ireland when he was struck on the helmet from a deflection off his own bat while attempting to play a low full toss from Zimbabwean seamer Brad Evans.

The Head of Physiotherapy and Medical Services for Cricket Ireland, Mark Rausa, said “Balbirnie sustained a suspected mild concussive episode after being struck on the helmet while batting in yesterday’s (Wednesday) match against Zimbabwe.

“He retired hurt and did not take the field in the second innings in line with concussion protocols. He was reassessed this morning, but the decision has been made to withdraw him from the remaining two matches of this series as a precaution.”

As a replacement, Murray Commins — the 26-year old, left-handed batter — has received his first senior squad call-up and was expected to fly in from South Africa, where he was playing cricket.

Commins has scored 395 runs in the Inter-Provincial Cup over the last two seasons at an average of 39.50 including a century and three fifties.

On Zimbabwe’s tour to Ireland in 2021, Commins featured in the Ireland Wolves team that played the tourists, scoring 60 off 88 balls. Cricket Ireland national selector Andrew White said the tourists were disappointed to lose their skipper.

“It’s extremely disappointing to lose our skipper in this manner, particularly after his outstanding century in his 200th match for Ireland. We all hope his recovery is quick and he is back on the park soon.

“With Andrew’s withdrawal, we have called up Murray Commins. Murray is a talented top-order batter that we see as a direct replacement — we know he has the stroke play, technique and mindset to build big scores and being left-handed, he will also add a new dimension to the top order.

“Given the volume of cricket coming up, this is also an opportunity to give Murray exposure to the international arena. We wish Murray well as he joins up with the squad,” said White.


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