CRICKET: Nation’s Great Expectations

There is a feeling that the Zimbabwe Cricket team will cause an upset at the forthcoming ICC World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, but will they?

That upset means winning against defending champions India, strong contenders South Africa or former champions Pakistan and West Indies.

And highly expected are victories over associates Ireland and the United Arab Emirates.

The Sunday Mail Sport looks at Zimbabwe’s World Cup record against each of their opponents and weighs the Chevrons’ chances of qualifying from the group stages.

The Chevrons will be making a ninth appearance at the 11th edition of the Cricket World Cup finals and have a meagre winning percentage of 19.60 from 51 matches.

Their best performances are making it to the Super Six stage in 1999 (England) and 2003 when South Africa hosted the event.

Can that be repeated under the tutelage of 1996 World Cup winning coach, Dav Whatmore, who has set a Super 8 target finish?

Zimbabwe will start their campaign against the the highly fancied Proteas in what will be the two neighbours’ third meeting in a World Cup.

The first meeting was during the 1992 tournament hosted in Australia and New Zealand, where South Africa were making their debut appearance.

[SEE ALSO: What the Chevrons said]

They prevailed by 7 wickets but the Zimbabweans got their revenge seven years later in England, winning by 48 runs.

In as much as Zimbabwe would love to repeat that feat, South Africa, with their much vaunted line-up, will be a huge task.

South Africa have been perennial chokers, bowing out in the semi-finals of the 1992, 1999 and 2007 tournaments and those are their best performances to date.

They have had one of the best preparations, touring Australia in November and are coming from a morale boosting series demolition (4-1) of West Indies.

Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn are world class cricketers who can distress any side.

Zimbabwe’s chances of causing an upset against South Africa are slim if not next to zero.

Zimbabwe’s second game is one that they are highly expected to bag. It is against minnows UAE, who will be making their first appearance since 1996.

The only meeting between these two teams was during the 2014 World Twenty20 which the Chevrons won by 5 wickets.

Zimbabwe will win this one.

West Indies are the team Zimbabwe will play after UAE and the men from the Caribbean Islands enjoy a 4-0 head-to-head advantage over their opponents.

West Indies were the champions in 1975 and 1979 but chances that they can repeat that are unlikely but possible.

They have been volatile on and off the field in recent times and the missing of three crucial players, Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard (both dropped) and Sunil Narine, who opted out to work on his bowling action, could do Zimbabwe a favour.

Zimbabwe could fancy their chances against the West Indies who they have played at the 1983, 1992, 1996, 2007 World Cups.

After West Indies Zimbabwe play another unpredictable side, Pakistan.

The 1992 champions enjoy a 5-0 head –to-head advantage over Zimbabwe, but Pakistan have their moments, they can beat anyone any day, but they can also be a disappointment. The 2007 loss to Ireland is a good example.

Pakistan are also have former Zimbabwe batsman Grant Flower as their batting coach.

They are missing one of the best spinners of the modern game, Saeed Ajmal, who is re-working his bowling action.

Zimbabwe would hope to find the Pakistanis off colour, but this fixture has always been a forgettable one for the Chevrons.

The Irish come next after Pakistan and this match will be potential thriller just like their famous tie at the 2007 tournament in West Indies.

Ireland, who are making their third appearance at the World Cup, have a tendency of causing upsets. Rewind to 2007 when they beat Pakistan and in 2011 they chased down England’s 327.

They believe they have narrowed the gap between them and their lowly ranked full member opponents and they would want to make the ball and the bat do the talking.

It is also Zimbabwe’s chance to stamp authority. This could be a crucial game for both teams.

Stuart Matsikenyeri was the culprit on strike when Zimbabwe failed to get one run off the last ball in that famous tie.

He will hope that does not happen again whether he plays or not.

This is a match that could define Zimbabwe’s performance at the tournament.

The Chevrons will complete their group fixtures with another herculean task against defending champions, India.

In six meetings, Zimbabwe have won one, while India have claimed five of those encounters.

Just like South Africa, India have some of the best players in the gamea at the moment in Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Zimbabwe are not fancied to win this match. On World Cup head-to-head record Zimbabwe lost 1-5 on field meetings in 1983, 1987, 1992, 1996, 1999 and 2003

India are the defending champions, a win for Zimbabwe will be a huge result for the Chevrons whose only triumph over the Indians came in 1999.

Anything is possible in sport, upsets and disappointments, that’s the beauty of the game.

The Zimbabwean faithful will certainly hope for the former.

[PICTURES BY KUDAKWASHE HUNDA]

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