Important for young Zimbabwe side to brush shoulders against world's top players: Tino Mawoyo

by IANS |

 July 5 (IANS) While India are eyeing to build a team for the future following last month's T20 World Cup triumph, Zimbabwe are also looking for a fresh start and rebuild their team after failing to qualify for the recent global event. The 2024 T20 World Cup was the fourth ICC senior men's event Zimbabwe have missed since 2019. Tino Mawoyo, the former Zimbabwe cricketer, speaks exclusively to IANS in a conversation facilitated by Sony Sports Network on the side’s rebuilding quest, fresh and recalled players, captain Sikandar Raza and more. Excerpts: Q. Pretty much like India, Zimbabwe are also on the road to building a team for the future. In that context, how much crucial is this series from a Zimbabwe perspective against a new-look Indian team? A. It's massive, and first of all, kudos to BCCI who have been very supportive of Zimbabwe cricket. There was an India team that was here a couple of years ago. They're back again soon after the T20 World Cup. So, even though it doesn't have all of the experienced players in it, it's important for the young Zimbabwean side, especially to be able to brush shoulders against some of the top players in the world. We've seen how well they've all done during the IPL and the majority of the guys on this trip have been selected majorly on the back of their IPL performances. So, it's important in particular for those young Indian players to be able to learn as much as they can. If you look at our side, we definitely have a few young players who have been on the side before, have shown that they've got potential at international level. So, a platform like this is wonderful for them to go on and show what they can do. Q. Zimbabwe has made wholesale changes to their coaching staff – Justin Sammons, Dion Ebrahim and Charl Langeveldt have come on board. How decisive are their roles going to be in rebuilding this Zimbabwe team? A. The changes in coaching staff are massive. Justin Sammons, of course, in his first ever role as a full-time coach, worked under Mark Boucher with the Proteas. But we had him when I was still an international cricketer a good eight years ago. We worked with him in Zimbabwe as well. He was with the South African Under-19s, and did quite well at the World Cup. So, he's got some experience at this level, and to bring some fresh blood in is really important. We can't hide from the fact that the last six or eight months have been rather disappointing for Zimbabwe in terms of the results they've put in. The failure to qualify at home for the 50-over World Cup, and then the T20 World Cup failure in Namibia has really dented the spirits of Zimbabwe cricket fans in particular. But I think this is a new start, and a new slate. Younger players have been selected and are being given an opportunity now, which bodes well for the ways Zimbabwe cricket is going now. You've seen that a lot of experienced players have been left out like Ryan Burl, and Craig Ervine, who's been white-ball captain before. Sean Williams was left out in Bangladesh and decided to retire from this format of the game. So all the new young blood that's coming in, we hope they will take Zimbabwe cricket in the right direction. We're hosting the 2027 Men's ODI World Cup and we need to start working now for building a team that'll be competitive in that tournament. Dion Ibrahim will come in and help on the batting side as well as a former national team player. He knows what it's like to play for Zimbabwe at international level. All of this really bodes well - a fresh, young, vibrant coaching setup as well as the change in team personnel. Q. Antum Naqvi has been literally making waves ever since he hit that triple century in the Logan Cup. Though his inclusion status is still unclear due to confirmation of his citizenship status, can you talk about what he possesses which can make him capture attention of international cricket arena? A. Antum has played a couple of first-class seasons in Zimbabwe. I didn't have an opportunity to see him the first time around. But I wanted to see for myself what all the craze was about. I watched and followed him a lot in his second season last year. For me, he possesses outstanding temperament. He's got a wonderful attitude towards the game, and is constantly in the nets. He's constantly working on his fitness, and has got a great relationship with his father who's somebody urging him on really well in his career so far. They're always in the nets, and always working together. But just from what I've seen from Antum, he’s a very well-grounded, and down-to-earth young man. I'm not surprised by the successes that he's had domestically in Zimbabwe. But of course, we do need to remember that's only domestic cricket in Zimbabwe. International cricket, in particular, against the world champions is a different story. For me, I have no doubt that he will have a successful career as long as he maintains what I've seen so far. We just hope that if he does get an opportunity in this India tour, he has a great start to his T20 international career in Zimbabwe colours. Q. Sikandar Raza has been Zimbabwe’s captain for some time. But with 2026 T20 World Cup and 2027 ODI World Cup being far off, do you believe Zimbabwe should look to get a new captain, considering Raza is 38 currently? A. Well, I believe that Sikandar Raza will most definitely be available if Zimbabwe qualify for the World Cup in two years' time. I think they can start to look for a new leader because we're talking about a younger side now and have new blood coming in. Even if he's still in the side, maybe Zimbabwe can start to look for a successor for Sikandar Raza in this format anyway. But other than him being 38 and getting on a bit, he's still one of the fittest cricketers that we've got. He's playing in almost every league around the world at the moment, and continues to keep churning out runs, and be performing, like he took an outstanding catch recently in the UK as well. So he's really doing well for himself - still at that age and very fit. I have no doubt about his fitness, and I believe that even the 2027 ODI World Cup, as long as he keeps himself fit, he'll still be able to play a role. If you look at Zimbabwe's results over the last two-three years and look at their successes, majority of the time Sikandar Raza is the one who's contributed heavily with the bat. Plus, he’s started to do that with the ball as well, so he's an important cog. He's not somebody that Zimbabwe can afford not to have in the starting lineup at the moment, as well as in the next couple of years. Q. From the fresh and recalled faces in the Zimbabwe line-up, who you think the fans should keep a watch out for? A. I will go back to Wesley Madhevere. Of course, he was falling out of favour with the selectors in last couple of tours. But he's worked extremely hard in his game and with him coming back into the side, I'm super excited about him. We've had struggles at the top of the order for Zimbabwe perennially in all three formats. But I think Wesley has a role to play for us, in particular while opening the batting. I know he's scored most of his runs at number six, but I think he's the ideal man to open the batting for us in T20 cricket. He plays with a lot of freedom, and expresses himself. In those first six overs, he's somebody who can get us off to a good start. Brian Bennett is another one who's really impressed me. Got a few runs up the order in the T20Is against Sri Lanka in Colombo in January, and then got that wonderful knock which got Zimbabwe over the line in Bangladesh in the final T20I. So he's definitely another one to look out for. Clive Madande, who you might have seen in the last couple of years, has got really comfortable into his middle order batting role, and he's one definitely for the future. Dion Myers is another one who's played some international cricket for Zimbabwe a few years ago. He went away to the UK, concentrated on his studies and he's done with that now to be a part of this India squad as well. So I'm really looking forward to some great performances from those four. I believe they are the future of the Zimbabwean top to middle order, and in years to come, as long as Zimbabwe have got them scoring runs, then definitely the batting woes that they had over the last few periods should be addressed by those. Q. Anyone from the Indian team who you think Zimbabwe will be really wary of? A. Most definitely, the captain (Shubman Gill). He was here a couple of years ago, and scored plenty of runs. I also think the captain not having a run in the T20 World Cup, it will keep him hungry and want him to go out there and really stamp his authority. Plus, he would be eager to show that he can lead a young, fresh Indian side as well, as he's one that India are looking for to lead the team in the future. This tour in particular is a great opportunity for him to do that. I also think Yashasvi Jaiswal as well is one to watch out for. Q. During the 2022 series, there was a great electrifying vibe brought by the fans at the Harare Sports Club, especially in that thrilling third ODI. So, what do you think is there in the people who come over to Harare Sports Club there and make for a very electric vibe? A. I'll tell you what, Zimbabweans have a great love for sport, and they do have a great love for cricket in particular. As an administrator now, it makes me very happy to see the excitement the fans have. Even when Zimbabwe hasn't done so well, they still come out in large numbers and enjoy themselves. Over the last couple of years, I think we've given the crowd something to be happy and smile about at Harare Sports Club, bar probably the loss to Scotland in Bulawayo for the qualifiers in the Men's 50-over World Cup and the Ireland tour in December that wasn't so strong. But they're an amazing bunch. I know some of them personally, and I know all the ideas and plans they've got already to come out in their fancy dress for this India tour. They're just a cricket-loving bunch; they travel with the team wherever they go in Zimbabwe. From me as well, just a huge thank you to them for their support. Zimbabwe cricket has been through a bit of a rough patch. But we definitely appreciate all the support that they give and all the jeering up they do for the team. I've heard several teams in the last couple of years who visited Zimbabwe and said, ‘You know what, I haven't been in an atmosphere that is so electrifying, daunting and nerve-wracking than Harare Sports Club when it's on song. So hopefully, that noise can get behind the Zimbabweans and jeer them up for hopefully a couple of victories in the series. India’s tour of Zimbabwe will be broadcasted live from July 6, 4:30 PM IST onwards, on Sony Sports Ten 5 SD & HD, Sony Sports Ten 3 SD & HD (Hindi), Sony Sports Ten 4 SD & HD (Tamil & Telugu). --IANS nr/bc

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