Preview: Ireland vs Zimbabwe
With Ireland’s next – and now vital – group match against Zimbabwe only three days’ away, CricketEurope previews the opposition, their key players, and the venue
Zimbabwe: form guide
Recent ODI form (most recent first): L L W L L L L L L L
On paper, terrible; in fact, competitive. In their last ten matches, from September last year, Zimbabwe lost to South Africa by 63 runs and suffered a 5-0 whitewash in Bangladesh, and now find themselves sixth in Group B of the World Cup.
Yet while their only victory of the 2015 tournament came against UAE, their performances against the bigger teams have been more than respectable. The South Africans were 83-4 before David Miller and JP Duminy recorded centuries, and Zimbabwe then scored 277 chasing 339. They might then have conceded 372-1 and a double century to the West Indies and Chris Gayle, but Zimbabwe still made 289 in response. Most recently, the ZImbabweans restricted Pakistan to 235-7 at Brisbane and fell just 20 runs short as Mohammad Irfan and Wahab Riaz both picked up four wickets.
Brendon Taylor: he seems to have been around for ages, but Taylor is only 29. Just shy of 5000 career runs in ODIs, Taylor has been in decent form in the World Cup so far, making 174 runs at 43.50. Ranked at #29 in the world.
Hamilton Masakadza: the veteran of 148 ODIs since 2001, Masakadza has more than 4000 career runs is currently ranked at #56 in the world.
Sean Williams: a left-hand bat and slow-left-armer, Williams has 193 runs at 64.33 and 4 wickets in this World Cup. Rated as only the 23rd best all-rounder in ODIs, but he’s a better player than that.
Tendai Chatara: Zimbabwe’s best seamer by a distance, Chatara is a relative newcomer to ODIs, but has played 25 matches since his debut in 2013. His career record of 34 wickets at 33.79 has seen him rise to #36 in the world and he has taken 7 wickets at 31.71 in the tournament so far.
Craig Ervine: Irish fans will likely take most interest in Ervine’s performance. The former Lisburn player was a truly dominant figure in NCU cricket last summer and has the very healthy record of 823 ODI runs at 34.29.
Ireland and Zimbabwe have met five times in ODIs. The first was that memorably tied match at Sabina Park in 2007. When the sides next met, in Nairobi in 2008, the Zimbabweans handed out a thumping: having conceded 303-8, the Irish were then reduced to 72-6 and 115-8 before being dismissed for 147.
Ireland then travelled to Zimbabwe in 2010 for a three-match series, which Zimbabwe won 2-1.
Neither of the Zimbabweans’ leading run-scorers against Ireland will be in action on Saturday: Tatenda Taibu retired in 2012, while current skipper Elton Chigumbura injured his knee in the defeat to Pakistan. This leaves Taylor (125), Williams (109), and Stuart Matsikenyeri (100) as the Zimbabweans with the most runs against Ireland.
With respect to the bowlers, none of the top five Zimbabwean wicket-takers will be playing either: Ed Rainsford hasn’t been picked in five years, Chris Mpofu likewise has been left at home, Pommie Utseya’s international career was cut short when his action was questioned, Graeme Cremer has not played an ODI since the last World Cup, and – again – Chigumbura is injured.
Among Irish batsmen against Zimbabwe, Kevin O’Brien leads the way with 157 runs at 39.25; the highest score by an Irishman, of course, remains Jeremy Bray’s 115* in the 2007 World Cup. O’Brien is also Ireland’s joint-leading wicket-taker against the Zimbabweans: he has taken 7 scalps at 18.42; George Dockrell shares that tally with O’Brien, but his wickets have come in just three matches and at the slightly better average of 16.42.
Having both played at Canberra’s Manuka Oval, Ireland and Zimbabwe will now visit another of Australia’s lesser-known international venues, Hobart’s Bellerive Oval. Tasmania’s climate is decidedly more ‘temperate’ than the other major Australian cities and so the Irish might find themselves in conditions more akin to life at home. Perhaps understandably, then, a majority of teams elect to bowl first at the Bellerive Oval.
Here are the stats for the 12 ODIs that have been played in Hobart since 2005:
58.33% of teams win the toss and field
50% of matches are won fielding first
Average score batting first: 259 (but 288 since 2012)
Runs per over (across both innings): 5.22
Average runs per wicket: 32.42
Too close to call. In their make-up, these are fairly similar teams, dependent on relatively strong batting line-ups rather than penetrative bowling. Even based on recent form, not much separates them: Zimbabwe impressed (as underdogs) against South Africa and Pakistan, while the Irish – in spite of the superb performance against the West Indies – did not convince against UAE and were completely outclassed by South Africa. The probable absence of Elton Chigumbura, Zimbabwe’s captain and one of their most experienced players, could prove telling.
To describe this as an important match is to understate its significance. Nothing will be confirmed on Saturday, but the result nevertheless will go a long way to determining the fate of the Irish. If they win handsomely, they could well make it out of the group on net run rate, so long as they avoid crushing defeats to India and Pakistan; yet even if Ireland lose, victory against Pakistan in their final group match at Adelaide could still see them qualify for the quarter-finals.