Zimbabwe match a litmus test for Scotland

Forfarshire's Scott Cameron practises in the nets ahead of Scotland's match today with Namibia. Photograph: Donald MacLeod
Forfarshire's Scott Cameron practises in the nets ahead of Scotland's match today with Namibia. Photograph: Donald MacLeod
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After the downpours that condemned last week’s Intercontinental Cup contest in Ayr to conclude in a wet and soggy draw, Scotland will pray that enlightenment arrives in Edinburgh for four one-day internationals inside seven days that will shape their summer.

Namibia, who punished Kyle Coetzer’s men with the bat but were unable to properly capitalise, have travelled eastwards for today’s initial World Cricket League clash at the Grange. But then Zimbabwe arrive for ODIs on Thursday and Saturday at the same venue, a priceless opportunity for the hosts to pit themselves against a Test nation on home soil.

In the ICC’s rankings, only four places separate the sides. The Zimbabweans, long since accorded a status as the runt of the Full Member litter, currently sit 11th, nestled in between Afghanistan and Ireland, with the Scots not far below. “I’d like to think there’s little between us and them,” Scotland’s vice-captain Con deLange said.

Yet in funding, in status, in opportunities, the gulf is immeasurably immense. Despite the countless charges of corruption, chaos on and off the field and a lack of competitiveness that have brought calls to downgrade their status and the hard cash it brings, Zimbabwe have been allowed to plough on regardless, a lost cause but incessantly indulged.

Having not won a series since beating the Irish in late 2015, in truth, they are there to be beaten, especially with something of an experimental squad, captained by Graeme Cremer with his predecessor Elton Chigumbura left behind. Kyle Coetzer’s side, buoyed by last month’s defeat of Sri Lanka, harbour high hopes.

“When you beat a team like that, it puts things into perspective,” says deLange. “It’s really satisfying because we train hard and we try to improve hard all the time. Sure, our facilities aren’t what we’d like them to be. Over the winter, we struggle especially. But given those challenges, beating a team like Sri Lanka makes it all worthwhile. It’s massively rewarding. You see most Test teams, they’ll pick from a group of 20 quality players at any one time, so to overcome one is fantastic.”

At the outset of their ten-game European tour, the South African-born veteran will hope the alien quirks of an Edinburgh wicket will flummox the tourists still more. Yet it is as much a curse as a boon and deLange feels a frustration in the variability of Scottish pitches, one which he claims is hindering the development of future internationalists capable of matching the very best.

“I don’t know how you go about preparing better wickets when it rains constantly but if we could get them up to a better level, the margin for error becomes less because they can develop their skills to a higher quality,” he underlines.

“I do feel if you train and play on good surfaces, it changes the way you approach your innings as a batter. And as a bowler you know the area you need to hit is very small. It goes probably from a kitchen towel to a plate in size. And it also allows you to push the game all the time because you can trust the pitch. It gives you more options and that develops your feel for the game.”

An advantage which remains in the Zimbabweans favour. However expediency will decree that now that their excursion here is no longer politically toxic, this will be the first of more frequent encounters with Scotland if it is proven that they are now peers rather than poles apart.

“That’s the only way to show the gap has shortened,” deLange declares. “I believe though if this group of players get that exposure to top-level cricket on a more regular basis, like we’ve seen with Ireland, the gap will definitely disappear.”