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THEY are used to the Irish than Zimbabweans in this part of the world but Tasmania has opened its arms to embrace Elton Chigumbura and his men as they battle to keep their World Cup alive with a priceless victory here on Saturday.

Throughout the 1800s, more than 30 percent of immigrants who landed on this island were Irish people and they have made such a huge influence on the society here, producing more than half-a-dozen Premiers of Irish decent and, of course, a number of Irish pubs at a lot of corners.

But the World Cup has a way of bringing people together and one gets this feeling that Tasmania has embraced the Zimbabweans, since their arrival here on Monday, even though their next game is against the Irish.

The Mercury newspaper calls itself the voice of Tasmania though other local newspapers will, of course, dispute that.

But, to its credit, the tabloid yesterday splashed a picture of Zimbabwean players, at their first training session on Tuesday, on its front page with the headline — “Zimbabwe had eyes on the ball.”

The picture features the players playing football at the Twins Oval, where they have been training for the last two days, and you can see a smiling Tinashe Panyangara racing for the ball, and Stuart Matsikenyeri and Sikandar Raza battling for possession.

“They enjoyed some light-hearted fun with a soccer ball yesterday but Zimbabwe’s cricketers are serious about their World Cup mission in Hobart,” the newspaper said on its front page.

“The Zimbabweans trained at the Twins Oval in Kingston yesterday in preparation for their match against Ireland at Blundstone Arena on Saturday.

“The game is the first of a three-game, week-long Cup carnival in Hobart.” Inside the newspaper, on Page 46, they also featured another picture of seamer Tawanda Mupariwa, Sean Ervine, Solomon Mire and Matsikenyeri playing rugby.

Interestingly, the newspaper said even though the Zimbabweans were 1-3 in their World Cup so far, having only beaten the United Arab Emirates, they had “pushed South Africa in New Zealand, (were) Chris Gayle’d by the West Indies in Canberra and probably should have beaten Pakistan at the Gabba last Sunday before falling by 20 runs.”

The Mercury said this Zimbabwean team was just a step away from becoming a really competitive side, something that was backed by coach Dav Whatmore, an Aussie who is at home in this tournament.

“The hardware is there, it is just the software that we need to quickly improve in,” said Whatmore. “If we can do that you saw the potential at the Gabba . . . and in Hamilton when we played South Africa. It is just frustrating when you are sitting on the sidelines wishing you could get inside their heads but you can’t.

“When they improve their ability to assess situations mentally, my god have we got the right formula.

“We have got the right skills for an XI in all conditions it just doesn’t always translate into performance. It is played in the head.”

The Aussie gaffer believes that he is leading a bunch of talented cricketers who just need the guidance to make the big step forward.

“They are a talented bunch, I have to say, and very skilful but because they haven’t played enough international cricket they are lacking that little bit of experience that shows under a bit of pressure,” he said.

“It (the World Cup) is the pinnacle of what they are trying to do over a four-year cycle.

“I’m very much a big supporter of these smaller teams getting the opportunity to play and wherever possible the full member nations should be assisting them in giving them as much cricket as possible because we’ve seen the evidence once again in this World Cup that there is huge potential.”

The newspaper believes that the arrival of a new leadership, under the chairmanship of Wilson Manase, has breathed life into the Zimbabwe team and their appointment of Whatmore as coach was probably just what the doctor ordered.

“A new broom has swept through Zimbabwean cricket after years of underperformance,” the newspaper said.

“Whatmore was appointed coach in December and former player Alistair Campbell is now chief executive under the chairmanship of eminent lawyer Wilson Manase. “Most of the players don’t have central contracts, instead they live on summer contracts and play club cricket in England and Ireland to survive.”

Whatmore also said the lack of exposure to international competition was stifling Zimbabwean cricket and feels the ICC’s decision to reduce the next World Cup from 14 teams to 10 only will worsen the team’s plight.

Soon the Irish will be here, and they will certainly feel at home, but whatever happens on Saturday, the Zimbabweans cannot say that Hobart, in particular, and Tasmania, in general, did not open its arms to make them feel at home on this island.

Source : The Herald