In September 2017, Zimbabwe faced Uganda in the final of the ICC Women’s World Twenty20 Africa region qualifiers in Namibia. If past results were anything to go by, Zimbabwe should have won at a canter. After all, they had players with a superior skill-set, a larger group of experienced players, and historically, had more of a ‘cricket culture’. In the Africa qualifiers, they were the heavyweights.

However, what proceeded that day at Affies Park in Windhoek was nothing short of remarkable. Despite a fighting 42 from Chipo Mugeri, Gertrude Candiru’s wonderful spell of 3 for 14 in four overs kept Zimbabwe to a score of 99 for 7, before Candiru’s unbeaten run-a-ball 23 took Uganda home with three balls to spare… For the first time since the tournament’s inception, Zimbabwe failed to make it to the Global Qualifiers— it was a blow straight to the heart.

Although Mary-Anne Musonda, one of Zimbabwe’s most promising batters and currently the team’s captain, was not on that tour, she believes it was somewhat of a turning point for the team.

“I think as a team when you get used to winning you get a little complacent— which is what I think happened when we lost to Uganda in the final,” Musonda told Women’s CricZone. “Looking back, I think that loss was a bit of a wake-up call. Maybe we needed it in some way.”

Following that heartbreak, Musonda says Zimbabwe went through a period of positive change— some forced, some organic. Most important was the “redefining” of their team culture.

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“We really came back as a team and regrouped. To come back and say you know, we lost against a team that we always win against, why did this happen? We figured that actually we had become so used to beating them, that we were not going through the processes, people were also not taking up their roles.”

Instead the players learnt to start focusing on smaller goals and understanding their roles. While individual roles became more refined, the team began to see every match they played as taking them one step closer to their dream of playing in a World Cup.

“The best thing about this squad is that people work as a team. Before it was a little bit difficult to do so because we had not redefined our team culture, but I think (after 2018) we had to sit down and actively talk about what we need to do to become one, to always be on the same page, and to focus all our energy on one thing.”

Working together was something that became an essential part of Zimbabwe’s new culture. They understood the need for the entire team to be pulling in the same direction if they wished to reach greater heights.

“Obviously issues will come but the best way to then resolve them is to understand each other, how the different personalities of people on the squad actually contribute to what we are trying to do at the end of the day,” Musonda explained. “So, people have then tried to compromise. People have had to adjust their personalities just to accommodate everyone and accommodate what the team is trying to achieve.”

The change in attitude and approach reflected almost immediately in their performances on the field. Soon after the ICC’s decision to grant international status to all matches played between member nations, Zimbabwe found themselves suddenly ranked 11, having won all their games.

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Their record since July 2018 reads: 14 matches, and 14 wins. They are the only undefeated team in that period that have played more than 10 matches.

18 months ago, having lost to Uganda, Zimbabwe had hit rock bottom. They have since played themselves into a position of ultimate strength.

Musonda’s growth and rise to captaincy

Having taken to the game almost by accident when she was ‘discovered’ by her school cricket coach whilst playing hockey, Musonda quickly graduated to the Zimbabwe senior team within the span of two years. She was only 15-years-old.

In 2006, as part of the national team, Musonda travelled to Kenya where Zimbabwe played their first ever international match. Although she didn’t get a game, she thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being part of a team that won the tournament.

Soon after their return from Kenya, Musonda decided to focus on academics. Between 2006 and 2011, although she still played cricket, the right-hander was not an active part of the Zimbabwe squad, instead going to college and then finally pursuing a Master’s degree in South Africa.

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Having been a consistent member of the side since her ‘return’ in 2011, Musonda has become one of the leading batters in her team— her technique is solid, her footwork immaculate, and her cover drives good enough to challenge the best. She is the batting rock around which Zimbabwe revolves. Thus, her resultant rise to captaincy seemed like a natural accession.

Musonda took to this role like a fish to water. School it seemed, had prepared her to be a wonderful leader— someone who saw the bigger picture, chose her words carefully, and understood the need for balance.

“I hadn’t been in this position before, I hadn’t been a captain before,” she said. “I did not expect it. However, I always wanted to have an impact on my team…I always thought my presence has to change things around, and also I should be a part of the senior players— just to be a responsible individual in the team.”

Musonda took the reins in December 2018 just ahead of Zimbabwe’s tour to Namibia and in her first series as captain in January 2019, she amassed 140 runs in four T20I innings at an average of 70. This included her maiden T20I half-century— a 49-ball 60 with nine punishing boundaries in Zimbabwe’s 57-run win in the 3rd T20I against Namibia. Musonda followed up that knock with an unbeaten 45 the next day.

Following that, Zimbabwe faced Kenya and Uganda in the Victoria tri-series in Kampala before heading back home for the regional qualifiers. Much to their delight, they avenged the defeat of 2017, beating Uganda all three times they faced them in the tournament— including the final.

Heading into the 2019 ICC Women’s T20 World Cup Global Qualifiers in Scotland in August- September, Zimbabwe had a realistic chance of challenging for a spot in the final two. Their form was good, their spirit was high and for the first time in a long time, they truly believed in their dream…

Image Credit: Zimbabwe Cricket

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This article was first published on Women’s CricZone, a revolutionary website dedicated to providing exclusive insights, news & live scores from the world of women’s cricket.

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