DUBAI (Reuters) - Zimbabwe has been rocked by political instability and a prolonged economic slump, but a successful cricket World Cup qualification campaign has the potential to lift the entire nation, according to captain Graeme Cremer.
“Our country has gone through some tough times,” the leg-spinner told Reuters in an interview at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium in the United Arab Emirates.
“It’ll lift the whole country if we’re able to qualify.”
Zimbabwe have participated in every World Cup since 1983, but in their bid to play at a 10th successive edition they face some stiff competition.
The southern African nation will stage a World Cup Qualifier (WCQ) tournament next month and the hosts will be joined by West Indies, Afghanistan, Ireland and six lower-ranked teams, with only the top two progressing to next year’s main event.
“If we don’t (play in the World Cup), it will be a huge setback for us,” Cremer said of the 10-team tournament being held in England and Wales.
“Qualifying will make teams want to play us. If you don’t qualify, you sort of fall down the pecking order. So we know if we qualify we’ll get a lot more cricket after that, which is what we’ve been hoping for.”
The 31-year-old described home support and knowledge of local conditions as key advantages his 10th-ranked side will possess in the qualifiers, but he is under no illusions about the challenges they face.
”Our batting is a bit of a concern at this stage. Our middle order... all the ability is there and the talent is there, but (they are) just not firing consistently enough.
“I (also) feel a little bit of inexperience in the bowling, especially with the seamers,” he added, noting the importance of Brian Vitori and Kyle Jarvis in leading the pace attack.
Cremer, who last month celebrated his 100th one-day international wicket, believes his own role in the team has evolved since he scored his first international century in 2016.
“I like to value myself as an all-rounder, not just a bowler,” he added. “Those 20, 30 runs can be the difference between winning and losing, so I enjoy my batting. I work quite hard at it.”
Cremer’s path to the captaincy across all three formats was unorthodox.
Thrust into the team as a teenager in 2005 following a mass walkout by 15 senior white players over selection policy, his opportunities became limited after Zimbabwe withdrew from test cricket a year later in the wake of crushing defeats.
“Back then, we sort of felt like... ‘you probably didn’t belong’ and we got bullied by teams because we were really young,” he said.
After cementing his spot in the one-day side after a 15-wicket debut series against Kenya in 2009, Cremer had mixed fortunes when his team resumed playing tests in 2011 and he walked away from the sport two years later.
“I stopped enjoying it. I always loved being on the field and playing, that didn’t change. It was more everything around cricket, the training and that sort of stuff,” he said.
“I’d come out of a few knee operations so that started to take its toll and I felt I needed a break from the game. I didn’t actually put a time limit on how long it was going to be.”
Cremer credits the arrival of then-coach Dav Whatmore as one factor in his 2015 comeback but admits it was former Zimbabwe captain Alistair Campbell who convinced him to return.
“He made me realise I‘m still young enough, and still (had) the ability to do well... I‘m glad it worked out like that.”
When opener Hamilton Masakadza was relieved of the captaincy in 2016, Cremer inherited the role.
“You become a lot less selfish,” he said of the promotion.
“You don’t put yourself under as much pressure, you don’t overthink your game because you’re thinking about the rest of the team. So it’s been good for me.”
In terms of developing his craft, Cremer seeks the counsel of former Zimbabwe spin-twin Ray Price.
“He’s always around the cricketing circuit so I get to spend a lot of time with him... He’ll often message me when I‘m on tour and give me a few pointers,” Cremer added.
Editing by John O'Brien