It is a do or die World Cup

There was a time in the 1990s and early 2000s when Zimbabwe cricket was on the upswing. It boasted of cricketers like Andy Flower, Alistair Campbell, Neil Johnson, Heath Streak et al who were considered among the best in the world.

More than a decade since then, the country’s cricket structure has been wrecked by a political turmoil and the team is barely recognisable. And late last year, in the lowest of lows, it was blanked 8-0 across Tests and ODIs in Bangladesh.

This prompted the handing over of the reins to former skipper Campbell, who has been appointed the Managing Director, and Sri Lanka’s World Cup winning coach Dav Whatmore.

“After this World Cup, we no longer automatically qualify unless we are in the top eight,” Campbell told ESPNCricinfo. “We will have to go to a qualifying tournament and if we don’t qualify, that will have dire consequences for the game in Zimbabwe. So we need to create viable player pathways so that we identify talent and make sure that we are nurturing that talent.” For this, he has put in place an eight-year plan and the 2015 World Cup is the first step in that.

In spite of the tough times, one can indeed spot some positives. In the home triangular series last August, where it hosted South Africa and Australia, the side did put up stiff resistance but often found it tough to sustain it. Playing at a consistent level through the match should be one among its goals in Australia-New Zealand. The accomplished Brendan Taylor and Hamilton Masakadza will take much of the batting load. The former will also don the wicket-keeping gloves. And for players like Sean Williams and Stuart Matsikenyeri, the tournament will be their comeback vehicle.

Among the bowlers, Prosper Utseya, who has been banned from bowling off-spin because of an illegal action, has remodelled himself as a medium-pace bowler and Whatmore believes he could be the “difference between winning and losing.” Much will also be expected of captain and all-rounder Elton Chigumbura, Tawanda Mupariwa and Tinashe Panyangara.

“I am always an optimist,” said Whatmore. “But I am going in with my eyes wide open. They can play and they are tough enough. They’re just looking for more of what they need to perform.

“I hope to make a difference in terms of getting their performances to improve,” he said.

* * * CAMPBELL-WHATMORE COMBO AT WORK

The side's strength is perhaps the fact that not many expect it to do well and this takes all pressure off it. After a period of turmoil, things seem to be looking up for Zimbabwe cricket. In former skipper Alistair Campbell (right), who has been roped in as the Managing Director, and Dav Whatmore (extreme right), the head coach, it has the two of the best-possible people to lead them out of cricketing oblivion. In the months leading up to the tournament Zimbabwe hasn't had the number of matches it would have liked. And given that since its Test comeback in 2011, it has managed to only win around a quarter of the ODIs it has played, it's definitely not a good sign.

* * * PLAYERS TO WATCH

Brendan Taylor: A lot of time has passed since the day Brendan Taylor carried Zimbabwe to an incredible win over Australia in a World T20 match in 2007. But his stock hasn't dimmed. The 28-year-old, who has the most number of ODI runs in the squad, will perhaps be Zimbabwe's most important cricketer at this World Cup where he will also don the wicketkeeping gloves.

Tawanda Mupariwa: Way back in 2008, Tawanda Mupariwa became the fastest Zimbabwe bowler to take 50 ODI wickets. He got there in 28 games, nine fewer than Eddo Brandes. But since 2009, he has been in wilderness until now. Known for his accuracy and his ability to swing and seam, the 29-year-old's role will be crucial in a weak bowling attack.

Elton Chigumbura: Zimbabwe's captain in the 2011 edition, Chigumbura is now in the saddle again. With more than 3000 runs and close to 100 wickets he is the team's premier all-rounder.

Hamilton Masakadza: He made his debut as early as 2001 but is yet to feature in a World Cup match. The 31-year-old, a veteran of 144 matches, is considered to be at his peak now and hence will want to optimise his opportunity.

* * * THE TEAM

Elton Chigumbura (captain), Regis Chakabva (wicketkeeper), Tendai Chatara, Chamu Chibhabha, Craig Ervine, Tafadzwa Kamungozi, Hamilton Masakadza, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Solomon Mire, Tawanda Mupariwa, Tinashe Panyangara, Sikandar Raza, Brendan Taylor (wicketkeeper), Prosper Utseya and Sean Williams.

N. Sudarshan