The last 30 days have been eventful for the Zimbabwe men's cricket team. Defeating Papua New Guinea by 27 runs in the first semifinal of the T20 World Cup Qualifiers at home saw them book their place in the mega event for the sixth time. But most importantly, the 2022 T20 World Cup in Australia will mark Zimbabwe's first appearance in a mega event since 2016.
That's not all. The Chevrons, as they are called, defeated Bangladesh 2-1 to win their first-ever bilateral T20I series over a higher-ranked side. Subsequently, they clinched the ODI series against them 2-1, cheered on by a full house of home supporters.
Left-handed middle-order batter Ryan Burl was one of the main architects in Zimbabwe's T20I series win over Bangladesh at Harare. From 76/6, Burl slammed 34 runs off Nasum Ahmed in the 15th over, equalling the record for the second-most runs hit in an over in T20I cricket. He eventually made 54 and shared a crucial stand of 79 with Luke Jongwe to set the base for a memorable Zimbabwe victory.
Burl, who had missed the 2016 series against India due to a tear in his ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) in the left knee, is excited about the prospect of playing against the KL Rahul-led side.
He spoke to IANS about the upcoming ODI series against India, influence of head coach Dave Houghton on Zimbabwe's turnaround and what qualifying for the T20 World Cup means for the side.
Q: Zimbabwe have been on a roll with the T20 World Cup qualification, followed by winning the T20I and ODI series against Bangladesh. How do you look at Zimbabwe's upcoming ODI series against India?
A: We would like to try and win the series. How we do that, I don't mind that as long as we get the wins. But it's India and one of the best teams in the world. They are not going to put up an easy fight; it's going to be difficult. Hopefully, with our home ground advantage, we can try and pull out a cat out of the hat and put out something special.
Q: There is no Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and many other regulars in the Indian squad. In their absence, who do you think will pose be the biggest challenge for Zimbabwe from the Indian team?
A: To be honest, it's quite difficult to pinpoint just one or two guys. Just the whole team in general, everyone knows the depth which the Indian cricket team has. If you have a couple of those big guys missing, it means that someone has an opportunity to come in and put their hand up. It's not to say they are not as good; they might be even better, who knows on a given day. It's just important that whoever is in the starting eleven, that we understand our match-ups. We then try to combat that and do the best as possible.
Q: You, Sikandar Raza, Innocent Kaia and Regis Chakbva have been vital contributors with the bat for Zimbabwe in recent times. Your thoughts on all four of you being vital mainstays with the bat for Zimbabwe.
A: To be honest, you can't guarantee runs in a match. It's really important that if one or two of us aren't coming off, then someone else steps up and puts their hand up. But a few of us have been scoring quite a few runs. Hopefully, we keep riding that train and let the form continue. We are obviously looking forward to the challenge. India is not going to be easy. We need to be on top of our game.
Q: Zimbabwe have been getting great results ever since Dave Houghton took over as the head coach. How has been his influence on the side till now?
A: The team is in an absolutely good space. It's probably the best environment in a changing room that I think I have ever been in a long time. The guys are just really, really happy that they are able to play with a lot of freedom, express themselves. Not to forget that there is inclusion of Lance Klusener as the batting coach. He's come in and it's not to say that the change rooms haven't been great in the past. It's just that a lot of players have just enjoyed the mental space and atmosphere which is there currently. It's really good and hopefully, good things just keep coming.
Q: Zimbabwe have qualified for the T20 World Cup later in the year in Australia. What does this World Cup Qualification mean for Zimbabwe after all the happenings of the past three years?
A: It was unfortunate that we didn't play in the last one (2021 edition in Oman and UAE). That being said, it probably means that we became double hungry (to qualify) and are extra hungry to perform in the World Cup in Australia. It's a great opportunity for us to showcase our skills; to put ourselves there on the map for the world to see.
It will also be a great advantage to play teams that we don't regularly play in bilateral series, like England, Australia, India and Pakistan. All those teams, we don't play regularly in the bilateral series and then get to play them in World Cups. It's a great opportunity and I am sure it will be a lot of fun.
Q: How crucial are the upcoming ODIs against India, followed by the tour to Australia in terms of being match ready and adjusting to conditions before the T20 World Cup?
A: The competitiveness and standard of cricket which India are going to bring will help us put ourselves in good stead for what will come in the World Cup. Then obviously going to Australia to play three ODIs, that will probably help us in acclimatising to the conditions. I don't think we could have probably asked for better preparation, especially in the last couple of months with the regular amount of cricket we have played. It will put us in good stead and help us for the World Cup.
Q: In the cricketing world, many players are opting to play more in franchise T20 leagues over international cricket. How do you see the impact of this inclination in the future of the game?
A: It's quite a tricky one, to be honest. I am probably sitting on the fence, either with or against them. At the end of the day, cricket is a job for us and guys need to earn money. So, guys want to do that, cut off miseries. Then playing in the leagues, that's obviously their decision. Personally, I do like the passion and pride people do have of representing your country. Guys who have obviously done that are now enjoying end of their career or by playing these T20 leagues.
Maybe their bodies are more suited for that as they are a little bit tired. Everyone has got their own individual situations and reasonings for it. I do enjoy watching the leagues and playing in those T20 leagues when we aren't playing international cricket. So, the schedule is tough and I don't think guys can do both. That's why you see guys doing one of the either. But I am probably on the fence.
Q: Any favourite India cricketer you adored and looked up to in your growing up years. Also, any favourite Indian player from the current set-up?
A. There's obviously the legends like, Sachin (Tendulkar), Harbhajan (Singh), Yuvraj (Singh) and a lot of those guys. In my last series against Bangladesh, when I tried to hit the left-arm spinner for 36 in an over, a little bit of flash came when Yuvraj hit Broad for six sixes. I was kind of trying to emulate in that way; he's obviously a legend.
In the current team, I do see a little bit of myself in Rishabh Pant; the short, stocky left-hander who likes to hit the ball hard. I am looking forward to having a chat with him (in future) and enjoying cricket on the same field.
India's tour of Zimbabwe will be broadcast on Sony Sports Network from August 18 to 22.