Heath Streak hopes to help Zimbabwe qualify for the 2019 World Cup by unearthing and exposing the potential of young cricketers and luring back some of its overseas-based stars. Streak, who was appointed national coach on a two-year deal, has been mandated with ensuring Zimbabwe do not miss out on the ODI showpiece, an important source of income for the financially embattled board, but he admitted he needs a deeper player pool to get the job done.
“There has been a big lack of planning in the past in terms of who is going to replace players. We’ve got some really exciting youngsters at the moment playing against Pakistan A and who played in the recent series. I will be looking hard at those youngsters and seeing who can take us through (to the 2019 World Cup),” Streak told ESPNcricinfo.
Streak identified the likes of Brian Chari, who opened the batting in Zimbabwe’s recent Test series against New Zealand and then took over the wicket-keeping duties in an emergency, and PJ Moor, who scored 157 for Zimbabwe A against Pakistan A , as two of the talents who could be part of Zimbabwe’s future but said there are more.
“Those are young guys who have been given some opportunities and are starting to knock on the door,” Streak said. “There are a whole group of young guys who have come through our Under-19 system who are being given opportunities now. They are probably a little on the young side but, given enough exposure, especially at A team level, they could be pushed up. I am very excited with the prospects we have.”
But Streak knows those players will benefit from having some of Zimbabwe’s more experienced cricketers, especially those who have spent time overseas, back in the set-up. “The other thing is trying to work on getting some of the players who have left Zimbabwe to come back and play for the country again,” he said. “There are a lot of Zimbabwe players who have left. A whole whack of our Under-19 [players] and then people like Brendan Taylor, Kyle Jarvis and Solomon Mire – all these guys doing well.”
Taylor and Jarvis both retired from international cricket to take up county deals while Mire, who was part of the 2015 World Cup squad, is based in Australia. Asking these players to forego the financial security they left Zimbabwe for will not be easy but Streak hopes with a more stable structure, they can be tempted to head home.
“They are Zimbabweans and we have invested a lot of time and effort to getting to them to the stage where they are at. Hopefully we can set the platform for them to come back,” he said. “That’s something that will take a lot of hard work, to make sure they have the confidence and the belief that they can come back and give up what they have overseas and have the confidence to continue to play here.”
Apart from money, Zimbabwe’s players also leave because of the uncertainty that stems from lack of fixtures. Without game time, the cricketers are left frustrated and their youngsters do not have the opportunity to be blooded. Streak knows that in order for Zimbabwe to perform better, they need to play more but he is also aware that after the upcoming two-Test series against Sri Lanka and triangular ODI tournament also involving West Indies, Zimbabwe have no fixtures scheduled until next June. That means they could go seven months without top-level cricket and Streak hopes to fill some of that time with matches against any team that is willing.
“For us, playing cricket, against whoever, is better than not playing cricket at all,” he said. “We are going to have to play some of the strong Associate countries and possibly some of the big countries like Australia, Pakistan, England, whoever’s A team is happy to play against us. The more game time we have, the better we will get.”
Perhaps what’s more worrying for Streak is that Zimbabwe’s domestic set-up is in limbo after the franchise system was dismantled in favour of a provincial competition. The fixtures for the provincial competition have not yet been announced and even when they are, it’s unlikely the tournament will have more than a handful of matches per term. For Streak, that means his players are not reaching the standards they need to take on the best; standards they will need to get to the World Cup.
“Our domestic cricket isn’t of a high standard so bridging that gap between our domestic-level cricket and international cricket is quite a big step up,” he said. “We need somewhere in-between that we can test out our guys and give them game time. We’ve seen in the last two series: when we played India, when we started off we really struggled and then towards the end, we started to compete and then again we had a poor first Test against New Zealand and then the second Test we were competitive. The guys need to be playing more consistently at that elite level and the more game time we get is going to be better than just playing domestic cricket.”
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
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