In the last couple of weeks, Zimbabwe have been enjoying a good run in international cricket. In the T20 World Cup Qualifier at home in July, they managed to book their berth for the mega event in Australia. They then followed it up 2-1 T20I and ODI series victories against Bangladesh.
Opener Tino Mawoyo, who became just the third Zimbabwe batter to carry his bat through his 163 against Pakistan in just his second Test, will be in the commentary box for the upcoming ODI series between Zimbabwe and India, starting from August 18.
He speaks exclusively to IANS about Zimbabwe's stunning reversal of fortunes and what would the hosts be planning against the visiting Indians.
Q. India are playing ODIs in Zimbabwe after a gap of six years. Both teams are coming off victories from their previous ODI series. What are your expectations from the ODI series between India and Zimbabwe?
A. Well, I am expecting some exciting cricket from both sides. But talking more about the Zimbabweans, I am looking forward to see the team carry on the form that we have in the recent past - The T20 World Cup qualifier Zimbabwe won in Bulawayo six weeks ago and the wonderful performance in the T20Is and ODIs against Bangladesh last week. It's been long time coming, Zimbabwe performing as well as they are.
I would just like to see that momentum continue and for the team to be as positive as they have been. Of course, India will be a different challenge as (compared) to Bangladesh tour and T20 World Cup qualifier. But I am excited by the standards of cricket and looking forward to see them continue playing as well as they have been.
Q. What do you think Zimbabwe will be planning against India's star-studded batting order?
A. They probably want to ensure that India don't get too many runs. You look at them, the way they are batting heavy and have the ability to get big runs. Yes, they have chased 300 (307) against Bangladesh and chased down 290 (291) in other of the ODIs. But what they will definitely want to do is to make sure India don't get too many runs on the board.
In saying that they chased 300 (307) and 290 (291), they had two very big partnerships in both of chases - 180 (192) in one game and 200 (201( in another. The top-order has been struggling to get runs and that could propel Zimbabwe into ensuring India don't make too many runs.
Q. Zimbabwe's revival has coincided with appointment of Dave Houghton as head coach and Lance Klusener as the batting coach. How do you see the influence of them on Zimbabwe's good showing till now?
A. It goes without saying that both of them have brought different ideology to the team. You can see that the players express themselves and are confident that they will be playing a good brand of cricket. Dave Houghton is somebody who's been in the Zimbabwe setup before as a player, captain many years ago and has a wealth of experience coaching in the county circuit. It's great that he's managed to come back and impart the knowledge he's learnt over the years to the players.
This is Lance Klusener's second stint as Zimbabwe batting coach. So, he knows the players, conditions and probably knows the limitations players had in his previous stint as well. He's become a better coach himself and was head coach of Afghanistan for a period of time. Their influences have been fantastic and I just hope that the way team is now, they can continue to go forth and produce results.
Q. Sikandar Raza has been in great form for Zimbabwe, as seen from his performances of late. Your thoughts on seeing his purple patch which has resulted in great results for Zimbabwe?
A. I don't know if we can just call it a purple patch anymore. It's almost like a purple weather as he just keeps scoring and scoring. This is exactly what Zimbabwe cricket needed and I have said this for a good two-three years that Zimbabwe cricket taking the stance of wanting to introduce the game to a lot of youngsters and getting them into the team.
They need senior players like Sikander Raza, Sean Williams), Craig Ervine (both are unavailable for ODIs against India), Regis Chakabva to be leading the way for the team and showing the youngsters how it's done. I have no surprise that the way he batted in the two One-day internationals against Bangladesh, he's pulled along for Innocent Kaia, Regis Chakabva to get their first ODI hundreds.
So, his performances have been outstanding. It hasn't just been with the bat; it has been with the ball as well. It looks like he definitely understands what he needs to do at that level for the country and long may he continue.
Q. Who are the players from the Zimbabwe side you feel India need to be wary of?
A. Definitely Sikandar Raza. You also saw Innocent Kaia in the series against Bangladesh getting a hundred, as well as Regis Chakabva who's started to perform a lot better as a player. I think Westley Madhevere is one to look out for with the bat as well. In terms of the bowling department, we are missing our top bowlers. But I like from what I have seen of young Brad Evans and of Richard Ngarava, the young left-arm seamer.
Q. From the visiting Indian team, who are you excited to see in action at Harare?
A. KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan, the two of those. I played alongside Shikhar Dhawan many years ago in the U19 Cricket World Cup. He was the Player of the Tournament in that competition. I am thoroughly excited to see those two, but not excited to see them score lots of runs (against Zimbabwe).
Q. What has been the atmosphere and feelings among the cricket fans in Harare ahead of the ODI series?
A. People cannot wait for tomorrow morning. I have seen so many fans who have had managed to see some of the matches against Bangladesh. The stadium has been full to the brim. I have no doubt that it's going to be exactly the same for the India series. India hasn't been to Zimbabwe in a while. Last time they came, it was in 2016. So, everybody is excited and looking forward to the series as well as to the team performing well and carrying on from the performances we have seen of late.
Q. It is a very interesting period for Zimbabwe. Back-to-back ODI series against India and Australia, then going into the T20 World Cup. In your view, how important are these series for Zimbabwe against some of the best ODI sides in the world?
A. This game time is very crucial for Zimbabwe and I think, if you look at last few months, Zimbabwe has played a lot of back-to-back cricket. A very strong South Africa A was here and played against Namibia in Bulawayo. Then, Afghanistan, T20 World Cup qualifiers and Bangladesh. So, continuous cricket is so important for cricketers to keep their form.
Importance of this India tour is for Zimbabwe to get as many points as can for the World Cup Super League qualification. They haven't got many points there; so it's important to try and get as many points. Then, the Australian tour is of course very valuable from game time in Australian conditions, which they will be subjected to when they play in the T20 World Cup.
Q. Later in the year, the T20 World Cup is going to happen in Australia. From a Zimbabwe perspective, how crucial has been the 2022 T20 World Cup qualification?
A. That's of huge importance. As you know, Zimbabwe was suspended when last World Cup happened (in 2021). So they couldn't get automatic qualification for this World Cup and they had to make sure that they qualify to go. It helped that Zimbabwe hosted the competition and managed to qualify. It's of huge importance to the nation and it really lifted the nation as a whole.
There's not much to celebrate in terms of sport in the country at the moment. So, that was fantastic for the team to qualify. It lifted the spirits of the team as well and one saw the performance of the team against Bangladesh straightaway. It's just a reminder that 'listen guys, we can play this game'. What's more important to me that when they get to their first Group game Scotland, Ireland, West Indies, the team makes sure that it tops the group.
India tour of Zimbabwe will be broadcasted live on Sony Sports Network from August 18 to 22.
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