A FEW weeks ago I previewed Zimbabwe XI’s tour of the Netherlands and Canada for two Intercontinental Cup matches.
I raised some issues of concern ahead of Zimbabwe’s return to Test cricket next May, chief among them the need for the Zimbabwe second-string side to put up commanding performances against the Dutch and Canadians — ICC second-tier cricket nations — in order to show the cricketing world that we have an adequate pool of players that can sustain a Test place.
With the unpredictable nature of limited-overs cricket, the Zimbabweans lost a one-day warm-up to the Dutch by 58 runs.
Stephen Mangongo’s boys then picked themselves up, dominating the hosts to win by 137 runs on the final day on Wednesday.
Yes it was only Netherlands, and yes, they are still to record a win in this competition, but the Zimbabweans still needed to go out there and do the job.
The other concern in local cricket circles was the inclusion of players who have national team experience in a side that is supposed to be a national reserve outfit. Analysts –– including the coach Mangongo ––argued that the side was not representative, that the involvement of these players not only deprived genuine fringe players a chance to prove their worth, but gave a false sense of strength.
But a close look at the side shows that captain Vusi Sibanda, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Chamu Chibhabha and Ed Rainsford have struggled to command regular national team places in the last two international seasons.
Shingi Masakadza and Forster Mutizwa have showed a lot of promise early in their international careers, but both have not cemented their places.
Timycen Maruma is slowly settling in the side, but he is still a junior member of the squad.
Craig Ervine’s talent begs for a permanent place in the national team, but he is still an apprentice at international level.
That said, it was the match-winning performance of the bona fide fringe players against the Netherlands which raised hope for the future.
Ervine, with his century in the first-innings and unbeaten half-century in the second, was the chief architect of the Zim XI win.
He is a young batsman whose technique suits the longer-version. He reads the game well and plays to the needs of the team, Zimbabwe’s own Mark Boucher in the making.
Then there is Reggie Chakabva, who has missed selection since his only ODI against Kenya in 2008. His cameo scores of 34 and 54* were typical of his style; a wicketkeeper-batsman who keeps the scoreboard ticking in the middle order.
There was also the notable performance of the young legspinner, Natsai Mushangwe. While we already have the national side first-choice leggie Graeme Cremer who is a wonderful prospect for Tests, Mushangwe will be a brilliant back-up.