By The Cricketer
For the first time since 2016, Zimbabwe are at a World Cup.
Having failed to reach the 50-over competition in 2019 and then missed out on the qualification event for last year’s T20 equivalent through suspension for off-field matters, when they face Ireland on Monday it will bring to an end the country’s longest exile since before their first appearance at a World Cup in 1983.
The result is a squad of two halves: the experienced stalwarts and a youthful generation coming up behind. Craig Ervine, Regis Chakabva, Sikandar Raza and Sean Williams are well into their thirties; Tendai Chatara is 31 and second only to Luke Jongwe, also in the squad, on Zimbabwe’s all-time list of T20I wicket-takers; Wellington Masakadza is the third sibling from the same family to represent the nation.
When his eldest brother, Hamilton, made his international debut, Milton Shumba, 21 – the youngest player in this squad – was 10 months old.
Wessly Madhevere, the 22-year-old allrounder, has started to establish himself and will likely bat at No.3 in between Ervine and Raza – the former on his way back from injury, the latter coming to the end of one of the great individual years.
Only five full-member-nation players – Suryakumar Yadav, Mohammad Rizwan, Nicholas Pooran, Babar Azam and Rohit Sharma – have scored more T20I runs than Raza in 2022, who has churned out 516 in 16 games, averaging almost 40 at a strike rate of 152.21.
He was the player of the tournament in the qualifying competition, is Zimbabwe’s leading wicket-taker this year for good measure, made a hundred against India only two months ago and brings oodles of experience from having played just about everywhere in T20 cricket.
Zimbabwe have been revitalised under Dave Houghton, with Steve Kirby his new bowling coach; they have already achieved one landmark victory in Australia this year, beating the tournament hosts in an ODI for the first time down under.
THE BIG MATCHWho: Ireland v ZimbabweWhere: Blundstone Arena, HobartWhen: Monday, October 17 (7pm local time, 9am BST)Prediction: Zimbabwe
They begin against an Irish side equally looking to make up for lost time after missing out on the Super 12s in 2021.
When Curtis Campher took four wickets in four balls to dismantle the Netherlands and further swell his ever-growing reputation, Ireland could scarcely have been happier, only for defeat in their second game against Sri Lanka to set up a winner-takes-all showdown with Namibia, who dominated from the outset – Paul Stirling aside, they managed five boundaries in 16 overs, which Gerhard Erasmus and David Wiese knocked off with relative ease.
Graham Ford has since moved on, with Heinrich Malan replacing him as Ireland’s head coach, while there have been subtle – rather than wholesale – changes to the squad 12 months on: off-spinning allrounder Andy McBrine has been left out, while three newer names – Fionn Hand, Stephen Doheny and Conor Olphert – have been added to a group that is otherwise full of familiar faces.
Craig Young has been ruled out by a hip injury, which has provided an opportunity for Graham Hume, while the biggest hole in their line-up – for casual observers, at least – comes in the absence of Kevin O’Brien, now a former Ireland international.
The departure of the great allrounder, who provided Ireland with their greatest World Cup moment, opens the door for that mantle to be passed over – perhaps to Harry Tector, whose stock is rising. The young batter was part of Barbados Royals’ squad for the Caribbean Premier League and will have a major part to play if Ireland are to go well in Australia. Along with Zimbabwe, though, they’re in a tough group. Between them, Scotland and West Indies, two nations will leave early and disappointed.