Starting January 12th, the touring side face a stern test in Harare consisting of three T20s and three ODIs with the latter looking incredibly important. Both sides will likely face the Qualifier for the 50 over World Cup later this year as a result of not achieving a position in the top eight by the end of the ODI Super League.
For Ireland things certainly look brighter than this time last year. There was a 1-1 series draw during their tour of the USA (giving the home side their biggest ever result). Not to forget that the Christmas tour in Florida nearly fell apart due to a Covid-19 outbreak in the touring camp.
They were desperate for some good news having been unceremoniously dumped from the T20 World Cup by Namibia in Sharjah – which resulted in head coach Graham Ford leaving his contract early and veteran Kevin O’Brien being dropped for the USA tour.
Good news eventually came in the form of an historic 2-1 ODI series win against the West Indies in Sabina Park (where else?), gaining some vital Super League points.
It was achieved with Paul Stirling as stand-in captain, backroom coach William Porterfield playing because of continued infection in the squad, and all under the watchful eye of interim coach David Ripley. Skipper Andrew Balbirnie would have to watch on from covid isolation in the team hotel.
Ireland then enjoyed a promising home season with close games against India and New Zealand and a 3-2 T20 series win against Afghanistan. But the highlight of 2022 was certainly Ireland’s rain affected victory against England in Melbourne at the latest edition of the T20 World Cup.
Their remarkable run at the tournament was marked by very clear plans throughout and a much more aggressive approach led by new head coach Heinrich Malan. But it wouldn’t have mattered were it not for a match saving partnership between Dockrell and Campher in a must win game against Scotland. A sliding doors moment.
Now Ireland must measure themselves against a promising Zimbabwean side who also enjoyed a good T20 World Cup campaign. But the cricket will be most notable for the names absent on both sides as much as those present.
Stirling, Little and Tucker will miss the 20 over fixtures due to commitments in the SAT20 and ILT20 leagues but will be available for the ODIs. Seasoned professional Sikandar Raza meanwhile will be missing for the home side.
This is all part of the quickly changing landscape of world cricket with a possible tug of war to take place between countries and team franchises who can sign players for large parts of the year on higher sums.
But both Zimbabwe and Ireland will know the value of having their players in and around the best talent in the world where they can exchange ideas and most likely improve.
The most interesting addition to the squads is certainly Zimbabwean born former England batsman Gary Ballance who has only recently signed a two year contract with Cricket Zimbabwe. How will he integrate with close knit squad performing very competitively under head coach Dave Houghton.
Focus will be firmly on the ODIs with the prospect of qualifiers that will prove heartbreaking for the sides that do not go through.
Ireland will be confident from their series win away in the Caribbean with Andy McBrine the star with ball and bat. Zimbabwe meanwhile gave a glimpse of their ODI capabilities when they beat Australia last September in Townsville with leg spinner Ryan Burl marking himself out with five wickets.
All of these factors make for a spectacular contest, and could show what it would be like if these sides played more cricket more often. And perhaps even in the longer form if the schedule would allow.
January 12th – 1st T20
January 14th – 2nd T20
January 15th – 3rd T20
January 18th – 1st ODI
January 21st – 2nd ODI
January 23rd – 3rd ODI
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