Firdose Moonda Assesses the Two Winners of the World Cup Qualifying Round in Zimbawe

 Firdos Moonda, in ESPNcricinfo, 9 July 2023, where the ttile runs thus:“Sri Lanka and Netherlands head to World Cup with questions left to answer”

Sri Lanka need to work on their batting in the death overs while Netherlands could do with some fixtures in the subcontinent, and a sponsor or two won’t hurt.


Harare Sports Club was half-full (or half-empty, if you are that way inclined) to bid the ODI World Cup qualifier and the World Cup’s last two participants goodbye. It was a typically clear and sunny Sunday afternoon, a slight chill in the breeze as a reminder that it’s still winter, the sounds of a papare band alternating with the Shona anthems from Castle Corner and a mix of braai smoke and underwhelm in the Harare air.
Maybe it would always have ended like this: a match with no context, in a format that is increasingly running out of any, between teams that had already done what they came to do – qualify for the World Cup. At best, this match was an exhibition of the skills that got them there and a (very early) statement of what they will bring to the tournament proper, albeit in very different conditions. In Sri Lanka’s case, it was also an exercise in fulfilling the expectation they had coming into this event with, which West Indies, Ireland and Zimbabwe had left unchecked. “As a Full Member country, it’s very important to win this series,” Dasun Shanaka, Sri Lanka’s captain, had stressed before the final.
Why? Because as much as Associates see the narrowing gap between themselves and Test-playing nations as a sign of progress, Full Members view that in the opposite way. Just look at West Indies. Twin defeats to Scotland have led to them being knocked out at last year’s T20 World Cup and this year’s World Cup qualifier and the questions that always burbled about their decline are now being bellowed. “WHAT IS HAPPENING TO THE FORMER WORLD CHAMPIONS?” That’s not a headline Sri Lanka want to read.
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    How a reenergised Dutch unit made it to the World Cup

“It’s been uncomfortable,” Chris Silverwood, Sri Lanka’s coach, said when asked how it landed at home that the team had not automatically qualified for the World Cup. “It was a responsibility that we took very heavily. We knew we had to come here and perform.”
That showed. Sri Lanka dominated the group stage and the Super Six and booked their tickets to India as though they were doing it online, in just a few clicks. They had only two moments of real concern in this tournament: both against Netherlands.
At 131 for 7 in the 33rd over in the Super Six game, Sri Lanka looked unlikely to get to 200 but eventually managed 213. And at 190 for 7 in the 39th over in this match, 230 seemed unlikely, but they got to 233.
Those scenarios highlighted Sri Lanka’s most glaring weakness: a lack of firepower at the death. Between the 2019 ODI World Cup and the start of this qualifying event, Sri Lanka’s scoring rate in the last ten overs has been 7.38, which put them ninth out of the 12 Full Members, only above Ireland, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe. In eight matches in Zimbabwe, that dipped to 6.99, only higher than Nepal’s. Going into the World Cup, where every other team has a power-hitter in the lower-middle order and totals just over 200 are unlikely to be enough, that is an area Sri Lanka will have to address, and they know it. “We’ve managed to build good platforms to go on, and then not quite finished as strongly as we would have liked,” Silverwood said. “That’s an area to try and develop. We are a developing team and that is an area we are trying to improve on.”
The real story of their success in Zimbabwe lay in their bowling. Sri Lanka are the only side to dismiss their opposition in every match they played and finished with the best economy rate of all their competitors – 4.74 – and the best average – 17.75. When Sri Lanka beat Zimbabwe last week, to confirm their World Cup berth, Maheesh Theekshana credited the variety in their attack for their dominance and with Netherlands reduced to 41 for 5 in the first powerplay in the final, you could see why.
“This is a call-out to anyone who wants to play us. We’d love to have a fixture or two. Our guys have not been to the subcontinent many times before so it would be good to have some fixtures somewhere in the subcontinent as well”
Ryan Cook, Netherlands coach
Sri Lanka made 233 look like 400 in the final when Dilshan Madushanka‘s inswing almost accounted for Max O’Dowd twice in his first over and he got rid of Vikramjit Singh, Wesley Barresi and Noah Croes in his third, fourth and fifth overs. Wanindu Hasaranga took a wicket with his first ball, a googly, and asked questions with every other delivery he bowled. The pressure so suffocated the Dutch that at the end of ten overs, their best runner, Scott Edwards, was caught short of his ground. And they weren’t even the best performers of the match. That was Theekshana, whose 4 for 31 put him one behind Hasaranga in the tournament overall.
For Netherlands, who have improved their game against spin but lost 12 wickets to the Sri Lankan spinners in two games at this event, that is the most urgent area of their game to work on ahead of a World Cup in the subcontinent. The problem? They have no fixtures scheduled for the next 90 days.
“This is a call-out to anyone who wants to play us. We’d love to have a fixture or two,” Ryan Cook, their coach, said with a special request about who they would like to play. “Our guys have not been to the subcontinent many times before so it would be good to have some fixtures somewhere in the subcontinent as well.”
And his campaigning didn’t stop there. Despite Sunday’s result, the afterglow of qualifying for the World Cup has not dimmed and he is hopeful it will start to catch fire at home.
“Hopefully we will be able to pick up a sponsor or two, and bring a bit more revenue into the game,” he said. “The players get paid quite lowly in comparison to other countries so hopefully that will give us a bit more resources to be able to do that. At the moment, we only have a coaching staff with one member full time. It will take a bit of work from our end, and here’s a full invitation to any sponsors out there who feel like being on the front and the side of the shirt in the World Cup.”
The fixtures and fundraising aside, Cook will also have a selection conundrum on his hands. Netherlands were without seven frontline players at this competition due to other commitments and will have to find a balance between rewarding the players who got them to the World Cup and taking their strongest squad there.
“They wanted to be here, and they love playing for the Dutch, and they are very committed but the guys who have done well here will also be expecting to go,” Cook said. “It will be challenging.”
As will the hangover in Harare after three weeks of high-octane cricket. Just as the light started to fade, the sprinkler started up and the only evidence of all the action gone past was a gathering of groundstaff, who celebrated the work they have put in. It should not go unnoticed that they have prepared good pitches for ten matches played within 22 days of each other, which is no mean feat. And they don’t stop.
The Zim Afro T10 is scheduled to start on July 20 and rumour has it that the floodlights, which were first supposed to go up in 2011, will finally be installed. Happily, they are not the same lights as the ones that have sat at customs for most of the last decade but upgraded versions. When they are finally put in place, it will mean cricket matches in the night for the first time in Zimbabwe. If the last three weeks have shown us anything, it’s that the appetite for the game is massive and the next step must be laser focus on its growth.
Across the four venues that have hosted matches at this event, school kids have turned up in numbers and the Cricket4Good clinics have been oversubscribed. A country whose national football federation remains suspended has now embraced cricket as the people’s game. Zimbabwe will not have World Cup berths to show for what took place over the last three weeks, but they have something else which is special: a sport that has captured hearts, minds and imaginations. In years to come, the glass will overflow.

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