Harare – Every cricketer has experienced it before. That embarrassing moment – usually in a low-key school fixture – when the opposition has been classified as mugs and the imagination has already racked up the easy runs, only for a wild swing at some pie-chucker to leave the stumps splayed and the face reddened.
The cocky, presumptuous attitude that leads to such moments is undoubtedly the greatest concern for South Africa in their one-off Test match against Zimbabwe starting tomorrow.
The two opponents may be neighbours, but apart from sharing a similar climate they could hardly be more different.
The Proteas are back on top of the Test rankings, are given everything they desire by their cricket board and operate in a relatively stable country. Zimbabwe are ranked ninth with only Bangladesh below them, are treated as anything but professionals by their conflicted, debt-ridden board, and are witnessing the country’s latest economic slide.
Such is the plight of Zimbabwe Cricket that they were forced to call off a scheduled tour by Sri Lanka last October because they could not afford to host the tour.
That left Zimbabwe’s cricketers without a Test or ODI for more than 10 months, during which time the domestic season was severely disrupted by player strikes over unpaid wages. When they finally got a game, it was against Afghanistan, with whom they drew an ODI series 2-2 last month.
It would therefore be easy for South Africa to approach this Test as a foregone conclusion in which they can puff up their averages.
“There’s always that thought that crosses your mind but as long as we are aware of it then it shouldn’t be a problem,” JP Duminy said yesterday. “The first thing we spoke about in our team meeting was to be wary of those kinds of things and to make sure we focus on our processes and preparation and not take anything for granted.
“We respect Zimbabwe and by no means are we taking this game lightly.”
But it’s fair to say that the Proteas will be losing more sleep over the unreliable lifts in their hotel than they will over their opponents, with whom they are reasonably unfamiliar.
“I guess (Brendan) Taylor has been around for a long time and has been a phenomenal player for them, so he’ll be one,” said Duminy, when asked which Zimbabwean players he knew much about. “(Elton) Chigumbura. (Prosper) Utseya, I think it is, the offspinner. He has been around for a bit as well.”
South Africa’s video analyst Prasanna Agoram certainly had his work cut out for him in preparing the usual pre-game briefing.
Where most home teams announce a 13-man squad for a Test, Zimbabwe have named a 25-man training squad and Agoram is unlikely to unearth much material on many of them.
Zimbabwe’s players are sometimes better-known for their off-field pursuits than their on-field achievements – most notably with the case of Mark Vermeulen, who burnt down Zimbabwe’s only cricket academy in 2006. The 35-year-old could play his ninth Test tomorrow after showing excellent form recently, but Agoram will find scant evidence of how Vermeulen has been employing his strong off-drive since his last Test in May 2004. - The Star