Ireland are jealous that Zimbabwe enjoy the lavish benefits of being a full member of the International Cricket Council: eight times as much funding, Test status, and a far more bountiful fixture list: last year Australia and South Africa visited Zimbabwe for a tri-series.
The anger comes because Zimbabwe have to do nothing to justify these benefits. Because of the archaic structure of the ICC, run akin to a 19th Century Victorian private members’ club, Zimbabwe can lose every single game, in every format, without imperilling their full member privileges.
While the ICC demands accountability for every dime it gives to associate members, the Zimbabwe Cricket Union is free to spend its $7 million (€6.45 million) annual handout however it pleases.
Even with such sums, Zimbabwe has been riddled by player complaints about being remunerated inadequately and not at all.
The biggest source of Irish angst at Zimbabwe, though, comes with Zimbabwe’s continued obfuscation at the prospect of playing against Ireland.
A five-match ODI series was pencilled in for September 2011, along with a five-day Test match in all but name. The tour was postponed and, four years later, there is still no sign of it happening. Indeed, Zimbabwe have not deigned to play a single ODI against Ireland in the last four years.
The only encounter between the two in any competitive cricket was in last year’s World T20, when Ireland stumbled to a last-ball victory.
All of this provides a spicy backdrop to the encounter in Hobart.
The truth is that, while Ireland might like to consider themselves favourites on account of a serene run chase against the West Indies, who Zimbabwe lost by 73 runs to after a Chris Gayle double hundred, the game promises to be a scrap between two similar and fundamentally evenly-matched sides.
Like Ireland, Zimbabwe are stronger with the bat than the ball. Notwithstanding Sunday’s defeat to Pakistan, when they were bowled out for 215 in pursuit of 235, Zimbabwe have showcased their batting pedigree this tournament: five batsmen have already made half-centuries. Zimbabwe overhauled 285 with two overs to spare against the UAE — and two more wickets than Ireland had in hand against the Emirati — and posted 277 against South Africa and 289 against the West Indies, admirable showings after the frailties in their bowling had left their batsmen with too much to do. Ireland players will be familiar with Craig Evine, the leading scorer in Northern Cricket Union cricket last summer. That he bats at number six is testament to the batting strength Zimbabwe possesses. Sean Williams, another left-hander, has been in supreme form at number five, following up a match-winning 76 not out against the UAE with 76 from only 61 balls against the West Indies. But it is Brendan Taylor, Zimbabwe’s stand-in ODI captain after Elton Chigimbura returned home with injury, who will be the source of most concern. He has begun the tournament bristling with intent, but, though he has passed 37 in all four innings, has yet to top 50. If that changes, Ireland’s seam bowling will once again at risk of being exposed. So far John Mooney, Max Sorensen and Kevin O’Brien have conceded 570 runs from 67 overs this tournament. Conditions in Hobart, where they have been biting winds, should notionally suit Ireland’s attack, but that will be of little use if the seam bowling continues to be so abject. Many Irish fans would like Phil Simmons to pick Peter Chase and Craig Young, the exciting young pace-bowling pair, who both worked with Craig McDermott in Australia last winter. Only Young, who has 16 wickets from six ODIs, is likely to be given a chance to repay Cricket Ireland’s investment against Zimbabwe.