HARARE: If South Africa and Australia judged their relative strengths on the manner in which each of them beat Zimbabwe, Australia would have come out on top. Although South Africa whitewashed their neighbours, their approach was far gentler than Australia’s merciless manner in racking up Harare Sports Club’s highest total and bowling Zimbabwe out for their lowest score in a year But that is not how South Africa and Australia’s muscle was measured and when it mattered, AB de Villiers’ men turned it on.
Now that they have shown what they are capable of, will they return to the big brother role they have sometimes adopted against Zimbabwe? Or will they go for the jugular, to prove that they can? The return of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel may be key in deciding South African tactics because the former, particularly, is unlikely to hold back.
Steyn’s presence will be on Zimbabwe’s mind even if they are not sent video clips of his previous performances because they faced him earlier in the month in the one-off Test but they also have a lot more to think about. Team morale is on the wane while disciplinary crackdowns are enforced with vigour. A curfew, limitations on what they can consume, who they can see and what they can share with each other on group messaging services are just some of the measures Stephen Mangongo has put in place as part of his drive towards professionalism.
The coach cannot be faulted for zoning in on hard work; likewise his team cannot be questioned over their willingness to put in hours of preparation - they did so even on a rare off day - but their execution is lacking. Whether it a result of flagging self-belief or a reflection of the gulf between the top teams and the bottom one is not clear but the only way Zimbabwe can answer the mushrooming questions about their ability is to show some improvement and show it quickly.
In the spotlight: The surfaces have not given much for the bowlers to make use of throughout the series, but Zimbabwe’s attack will still be under scrutiny because of their inexperience. With Tinashe Panyangara suspended for the rest of the series, Tendai Chatara will likely lead the attack but will need support from his captain, Chigumbura, the spinners, especially Prosper Utseya, and whoever joins him in the seam department. Although Zimbabwe have options, none of the rest of the bowlers have had a regular run to develop the confidence needed to take on the best.
After the high intensity duel against Australia, it may be difficult for AB de Villiers to get his men up for a much lower-profile clash against a side they have already beaten three times in the last week. That’s why South Africa’s attitude will be so important. They have been careful to keep saying they expect Zimbabwe to upset someone at some stage but will still have to guard against complacency creeping in.
Zimbabwe will have to turn to one of the younger members of their bowling pack to fill in for Panyangara with any one of Luke Jongwe, Shingi Masakadza, Neville Madziva, Cuthburt Musoko or Brian Vitori coming in. Although the batting line-up failed against Australia, Tino Mawoyo should get another opportunity to open with Brendan Taylor, Sean Williams and Elton Chigumbura making up the middle order. After victory over Australia, South Africa may not see any reason to make too many changes except in one area. Wayne Parnell was expensive and could be substituted by Kyle Abbott, who was miserly when he played against Zimbabwe in the bilateral series.
Zimbabwe: Sikandar Raza, Tino Mawoyo, Hamilton Masakadza, Brendan Taylor, Sean Williams, Elton Chigumbura (capt), Richmond Mutumbami, Prosper Utseya, Luke Jongwe/Shingi Masakadza/Neville Madziva, Tendai Chatara, Cuthburt Musoko/Brian Vitori.
South Africa: Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock (wk), Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers (capt), JP Duminy, David Miller, Ryan McLaren, Wayne Parnell/Kyle Abbott, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir.
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