Deputy Sports Editor
A bruised and battered Zimbabwe is expected to begin their walk towards redemption when they face-off against Bangladesh in the opening tie of the Twenty20 Tri-nation series at Harare Sports Club this afternoon.
Despite its unofficial status, the assignment will be the national team’s first competitive assignment after their nightmarish tour down under at the beginning of the year.
However, they will now have to go into battle without the services of three crucial players who have been ruled out of the entire series through injury.
Raymond Price, Tatenda Taibu and Foster Mutizwa all went down during the month-and-half long training camp at Harare Sports Club.
Price and Taibu were the first to be ruled out after the left arm spinner appeared to struggle with his lower back while Taibu’s index finger problems resurfaced.
Mutizwa, the latest to go down, sustained a lower back problem after a freak accident during a warm-up match last week.
The Zimbabwe camp remains unfazed with the blight of injuries that seem to have haunted Zimbabwe’s extensive preparations, at one time threatening to put down players like Graeme Cremer, Tendai Chatara and Njabulo Ncube.
Zimbabwe’s assistant coach, Steve Mangongo, has chosen to look at the bright side and see the latest setback as a blessing in disguise.
“Obliviously, the loss of Mutizwa just two days before the tournament is a major setback, especially considering the fact that he was one of those players who seemed to be in good form during the warm-up games hitting the ball cleanly and getting the runs.
“As much as we will miss him in the team, we have enough cover and quality players to pull through and get the job done,” he said.
“When it comes to Taibu and Price, we have had amply time to adjust and try out replacements since they went down pretty early in the run-up to the series.
“I hope the younger guys see this setback as an opportunity or blessing in disguise and stand up to be counted. Despite the wealth of experience and talent the two possess,
I would think their injuries will inspire and motivate the players that will be selected to play hard and maybe challenge for their place in the team,” he said.
As far as today’s encounter is concerned, Mangongo was full of optimism and believes the tour will go a long way in preparing Zimbabwe for the ICC Twenty20 World Cup later this year.
“Bangladesh and South Africa are every good and competitive sides, and playing them two months away from the World Cup can only yield good things.
“We hardly get the opportunity to play South Africa, who are a world class outfit, while Bangladesh should give us that chance to try our hand against spin, so we are going to give it our all,” he said.
Bangladesh will be without their talismantic leader, Shakib Al Hasan, but should remain a great threat given the wealth of experience at their disposal.
They have bonafide match winners in players like Tamin Iqbal, Mohammad Ashraful, Mashrafe Mortaza and Adbur Razzak.
The Tigers coach, Richard Pybus, remains optimistic of a good outing as he too hopes to use the tour to asses his charges before the World Cup in September.
“I have said this from the onset, this tour is important in that it should give us all the chance to see how our preparations for the World cup are going and if we start it off with a win as it gives momentum going into the rest of the series,” he said.
He said most eyes should be on both Bangladesh and Zimbabwe who enter as underdogs given the strength of the South Africans so a result today is crucial.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe Cricket yesterday announce a provisional 15-men squad that is expected to take part in today’s opener against Bangladesh.
Among the few notable changes are the return of Christopher Mpofu who makes a welcome return after missing the team last tour to New Zealand at the beginning of the month due to injury.
Chairman of Selector’s Givemore Makoni said that the squad is specific to the first T20 match against Bangladesh on Sunday, 17 June 2012.
“Since we are playing at home we have the flexibility to change the squad as we go along, so the squad we are announcing is only for the first T20 match on Sunday,” said
Vusi Sibanda, Hamilton Masakadza, Brendan taylor (wkt), Elton Chigumbura, Craig Ervine, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Graeme Cremer, Prosper Utseya, Richard Muzhange, Chris Mpofu, Kyle Jarvis, Shingi Masakadza, Malcom Waller, Regis Chakabva, Brian Vitori.