IF THEY are to reach the World Cup quarter-finals, Zimbabwe will need to beat Ireland and the UAE, the non-Test nations in Pool B, and find a way to defeat at least one of India, South Africa, Pakistan and the West Indies.
It shapes as a tough but not impossible task and the Zimbabweans will have been encouraged by the dismal form of the West Indies during their series in South Africa.
For a small cricketing country, Zimbabwe have occasionally punched above their weight at World Cups, most notably when they defeated Australia in their first appearance in the tournament in 1983 when they were still an associate nation.
They reached the Super Six stage in both 1999 and 2003 before an administrative upheaval which led to many leading players quitting the game, eventually resulting in Zimbabwe withdrawing from Test cricket for six years.
Without again reaching the heights that were achieved when the likes of Andy Flower and Heath Streak were playing, Zimbabwe have shown they are capable of causing the occasional upset against leading teams, such as when they beat Australia in Harare last August.
Realistically they will rely on a handful of proven players such as Hamilton Masakadza, Brendan Taylor, Sean Williams and captain Elton Chigumbura, while Solomon Mire is regarded as a promising all-rounder.
Provided Masakadza and Taylor are in form, Zimbabwe are capable of posting reasonable totals.
The bowling lacks major penetrative power but Tinashe Panyangara and Tendai Chatara lead a steady bowling attack in which left-arm spinner Williams could play an important role. Zimbabwe are usually a good fielding team.
Recent form is not encouraging.
Although Zimbabwe beat Australia in one of two matches and performed respectably against South Africa in a triangular tournament in Harare, they then underwent a disastrous tour of Bangladesh, losing all three Test matches and five one-day internationals.
In the aftermath of the Bangladesh debacle, coach Stephen Mangongo was replaced by Dav Whatmore, the much-travelled Australian, and six players who did not go to Bangladesh were brought into the World Cup squad.
Whatmore was coach of Sri Lanka when they won the World Cup in 1996 and was at the helm when Bangladesh had their most successful World Cup campaign in 2007, eliminating India at the group stage and defeating South Africa in the Super Eights.Advertisement
Unlike most of the other teams, Zimbabwe have not played any One-day Internationals during the build-up period to the World Cup — they were last in action in Bangladesh on Dec 1.
Their preparation consisted of domestic cricket, an ‘A’ series against Canada involving five of the players, and a training camp in Dubai.
The lack of international game time means that Zimbabwe’s warm-up games against New Zealand and Sri Lanka will be important.
In a recent interview, Whatmore said he was impressed with the determination of the players to ‘turn things around’.
It will be a tall order.