|New Zealand and South African hostilities are set to resume|
The conclusion to Zimbabwe’s tour was notable for two things. For the first time in a month long tour New Zealand were put under pressure, and Hamilton dominated in Hamilton. Zimbabwean opener Hamilton Masakadza deposited the New Zealand bowlers to all parts of Hamilton’s Seddon Park to score the quickest T20 half-century in Zimbabwean cricketing history; a feat then run close by Brendan Taylor who showed his unequalled batting prowess amongst his national peers. Unfortunately, the result though closer, petered out to the same conclusions as the other lopsided contests.
What we all hoped would at least be a series of fair contests ended up as little more than repetitive opposed open wicket sessions for the New Zealanders. Whilst the contests improved as their length shortened, New Zealand was rarely challenged at any stage other than in the final T20 hit and giggle.
The major concern from New Zealand’s perspective was that with a little pressure applied in the final encounter, they tended to revert to type. After looking untroubled in five previous matches, the fielding effort in their final outing saw bowlers regularly missing their lengths and some of the fielding intensity fell away with it. Against weaker opposition such cracks can be papered over without affecting the result – similar mistakes against South Africa will be punished with ruthless efficiency.
In the final wrap-up, New Zealand have done what Kiwi fans have asked of them and dominated weaker opposition, where in the past they have been prone to lowering their standards. There will be knockers, there always are, but for want of a cliché, they can only play what’s in front of them.
New Zealand has achieved what they needed from the Zimbabwe series, with most players achieving. The conjecture over BJ Watling’s place in the test side as the first choice wicketkeeper subsided after a maiden test century and a polished performance behind the stumps. The question is whether he can continue to grow into the role during a three test series as opposed to a three day landslide? Brendon McCullum confirmed he can build an innings and Chris Martin reminded everyone he’s not yet past it with a host of test wickets – he will need to repeat the performance against South Africa for New Zealand to expose the middle order early on sporting pitches.
The six Kiwi debutants have all got a feel for international cricket, albeit in the limited overs format. Tarun Nethula had the commentators sounding like Channel 9 cheerleaders but given it’s over a decade since we fielded an international leg spinner and as far back as Jack Alabaster since one could regularly pitch it, that’s understandable. Roneel Hira looked composed against the Zimbabwe top order but his control will be tested against Amla, de Villiers and their peers. The youngest of the debutants, Tom Latham, looks like the best long term option across all formats. Whether he gets to wield the willow in the South African ODIs may depend on whether Taylor and/or Ryder return.
For the past month, Martin Guptill has shown he has started to learn the harsh lessons of international cricket. Disappointed at a weak dismissal after building a solid platform in the test, Guptill has gone from strength to strength throughout the remainder of the series. His ability to do it all with a straight bat and strong running has been the most pleasing aspect of a largely lifeless series.
Zimbabwe was at best sporadic in their efforts and at times looked like they would struggle at domestic level. Brendan Taylor has shown glimpses of his potential to make a true mark on the international scene but he appears to bat with the weight of a nation on his shoulders - which is largely how it is. A stint in county cricket would help him move his game forward but the key is to develop those around him. Taibu continues to get starts but struggles to dominate an innings and Waller showed little of his potential. Hamilton Masakadza and Elton Chigumbura have shown ability in the shorter forms but to succeed long term they need to translate limited overs cameos into test match contributions. That will only be achieved through more time at the crease outside of their homeland.
The elder statesman, Ray Price, showed the mettle and competitive spirit we all expect from Zimbabwe, but it is one of the team’s youngsters who offers the most promise. 22 year old Kyle Jarvis needs an extra yard of pace but was wholehearted in his efforts in every spell. If he continues to develop he has the potential to lead a young attack over the next decade. Like Taylor, he would benefit from time in England or in grade cricket in Australia where he could build his pace and hone the harsh edge needed to succeed as a quick at the highest level.
In the short term Zimbabwe would do well to get their fielding to a standard above that of club level. In the U19 coach, New Zealander Chris Harris, they have one of the best fielding exponents in the game and need to get him involved at senior level. Batting and bowling take time for skills to grow but fielding is largely about hard work and attitude, and Zimbabwe need to take every chance on offer – New Zealand has learned that the hard way in past seasons.
World cricket wants to see a competitive Zimbabwean side - the more competition across nations the better for the continued development of our great game. Zimbabwe have shown they can produce talent, as they did in their glory days with Streak, the Flower brothers, Brandes, Campbell et al., and cricket’s most recognisable flat track bully, Graeme Hick.
Given their prolonged absence from the international game, time is needed – India, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh all went through the same trials in their emerging years. The ICC and their international members need to be patient and all take an interest in making the whole strong as opposed to just their own backyard. Established nations should encourage Zimbabwe to tour, even if on short tours largely against domestic sides with a test and some limited overs matches thrown in. Likewise, why not use the African nation as a testing ground for emerging players and A team tours as often happened in the 1980s and 1990s when Zimbabwe were building as they are now?
Zimbabwe’s cricketing powerbrokers need to work to get their players experience in foreign conditions, most likely in domestic competitions when they’re not touring. The ability to play in varied conditions and the experience gained in other competitions will help grow the Zimbabwean game.
This summer’s main course is now in New Zealand and will provide a litmus test of New Zealand’s growth post-Hobart. South Africa is a world class unit and will punish New Zealand if they drop their standards even slightly. The coming weeks are crucial for the development of Bracewell and Williamson, who need to solidify the potential they have shown, but New Zealand’s fortunes hang on their established stars taking the lead and showing the others they can compete. If the New Zealanders can get across the line in the ODIs and salvage a drawn test series their summer would end on a well-deserved high, though given the South Africans will claim the number one test spot if they whitewash the Kiwis, they are unlikely to ease up at any stage.
Finally, the South Africans are to be congratulated for opening their tour in Christchurch. The city has been decimated by a spate of earthquakes and a T20 match against the locals will be their first taste of international sport in a long time. Kia kaha, Christchurch and thank you, South Africa.