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Saturday, 2 January 2010

A-Z of Zimbabwe Cricket 2009: Part 7 [S-U]

S - Sibanda's Bradmanesque First Class Season

Opening Batsman Vusimuzi Sibanda had ended 2008 in a dismal fashion, looking clueless against the Srilankan attack, and the year 2009 too began on the same lines. Apart from a half century against Kenya in the away series, he did nothing much with the bat, which led to him getting dropped from the national team soon after. With a lot of yesteryear players making a comeback to the Zimbabwean cricketing arena, for a batsman of Sibanda's class and calibre, the situation looked very bleak at that point. Another set of failures at domestic level, and he could very well have disappeared into obscurity at the end of the 2009/10 season. But the fighter in Sibanda wanted to prove his worth, and proving himself is what he did for the rest of the season, in a spectacular fashion.

The inclusion of a Zimbabwe XI in the ICC Intercontinental Cup meant that Sibanda got a chance to lead the XI against Kenya, and that was when fun started, with Sibanda almost single handedly beating Kenya with the bat, with scores of 209 and 116 not out. The great batting form continued in the Logan Cup too, where he became one of the primary reasons for the success of Midwest Rhinos. His First Class statistics for the 2009/10 season at the end of the year stood at a whopping 1215 runs at a Bradmanesque average of 93.46, with 8 big hundreds. This almost certainly brings Sibanda back in the national squad frame, and his previous experience of playing in the West Indies whom Zimbabwe are scheduled to tour in 2010 must clinch a berth for him in the touring party.

T - Tatenda Taibu's Troublesome Year has a Terrific End

Talented wicket keeper batsman and former skipper Tatenda Taibu had a torrid year for most of 2009, but ended it on a high note to underline his importance in the Zimbabwe squad. The year began with the news of his contract with Kolkata Knight Riders not getting renewed before IPL-2, thus leading to no Zimbabwean representation in that edition of IPL. Then came the controversy of manhandling and assaulting ZC official Ms. Esther Lupepe, for which Taibu had to go through a court trial, where he was acquitted of the charges. In bizarre turn of events, the ZC itself found him guilty for the same charges and slapped him with a 10 match ban, which kept him out of both legs of the Kenya series.

As form deserted Taibu on the field, off-field drama continued with the playing kit row. His kit got misplaced on the return trip from Bangladesh, and Taibu allegedly refused to play in any kit other than his, and claimed that the new kit he got from ZC were not according to his specifications. This led to his non-inclusion in the away series against Kenya, and the subsequent trip to India where a Zimbabwe XI participated in the domestic One Day tournament. Although we might never get to know the real details behind this ugly and unfortunate story, and the one about the assault charges, the incidents certainly tarnished his image of an "eager-eyed innocent-kid" and made him look like a spoilt brat. Things did not get any better on the field, being out of form, he chose to play some atrocious and ambitious shots too early in his knocks and got out in bizarre ways, which made even some of his ardent fans question his commitment. Injury scares added to his woes too, and took his career to an all time low.

As the end of year 2009 drew closer, many started talking about Taibu as a fading star, but he chose the right platform to spring back to his impressive ways, scoring a hundred and a fifty against the mighty South Africans in the two match ODI series, which earned him the man of the series award. This helped Taibu underline his importance as a big match player, and although Zimbabwe lost both the matches, his and Price's performances in these two matches caught the attention of the world. Taibu was back, and was back with the vengeance. With a lot of revamp happening in Zimbabwean cricket, it is extremely important to have a performing Taibu in the side, and this year-end performance from the little master from Harare augurs well for the future.

U - Under-19 Performances

The only satisfying news about the Zimbabwe Under 19 team for the year of 2009 was that they got some matches under their belt, and hence, valuable time in the middle, as they prepared for the 2010 ICC U-19 World Cup. The results did not inspire much confidence, and although they ran the Pakistan U-19 team close at home on a few occasions, and made the Bangladesh U-19 team sweat for victories while playing away, all they could show at the end of it all was a solitary win over the Pakistanis in the 6th and final youth ODI of that series.

Absence of talented batsman and future hope PJ Moor for the whole of the season due to the injury he picked up while playing Rugby, meant that Zimbabwe U-19 team was not at full strength in these matches, and the Bangladesh tour did not involve many regulars of the U-19 team including skipper Dylon Higgins, who were writing their exams back home. But Moor has apparently recovered and is part of the 2010 World Cup squad, led by Higgins, who himself is in good bowling form. A favourable draw invloving Zimbabwe, Canada, Srilanka and hosts New Zealand in the same group for the league matches invokes hopes of a genuine chance of making it into the quarter finals at the very least.

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