THE Zimbabwe national cricket team has enlisted the services of a psychologist in a bid to improve its woeful away form as the team prepares for a tough tour of the West Indies next month.
Zimbabwe has played reasonably well at home, winning close to 50% of its One-Day Internationals (ODI) under coach Alan Butcher's three years in charge.
Last year Zimbabwe toured New Zealand and lost every match in all three formats of the game (Test, ODI and T20), before travelling to Sri Lanka for the Twenty20 World Cup where the team lost both matches against the hosts and South Africa in disappointing fashion.
The squad goes into camp on February 4 and while it would be working hard on its batting, sessions with a psychologist also feature at the top of the schedule.
Butcher told IndependentSport a psychologist had been hired because the travel woes are more about the mental rather than the technical aspect of the game.
"I think one of the most important dimensions is the mental aspect of going overseas and playing so we have brought a psychologist on board," said Butcher. "We are going to work on that, then the usual things like netting and using bowling machines to try and simulate a bit more pace. The West Indies have a couple of bowlers with good pace, but for me the major thing is the difference when we play at home. We play good cricket at home; we have won some matches but away from home we have been a totally different side. I think it is more of a mental problem than anything else."
Butcher said the other main worry is the lack of depth in the batting department.
"We are a bit thin on batting depth. In the spin department we are okay, especially in ODIs with Prosper Utseya and Ray Price in addition to Graeme Cremer. We have been reasonably good in that department as well as in seam, but we rely on a small group of batsmen to get us totals and we need improvement in that area. Getting depth takes time but we still need to give a good account of ourselves even under such circumstances."
Bucher said the other contributing factor was weakness of the domestic league because players probably face two very good bowlers at most, whereas at international level they face top sides with at least four quality bowlers.
"So it's a big step for some of our batsmen from the domestic to the international level. I always tell them that if you are to entertain hope of doing well at international level you need to average 60 runs on the domestic scene."
The tour to the West Indies and homes series against Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan to follow would provide Zimbabwe with the platform to gain more experience.
Butcher expects the trip to the West Indies would be a difficult one.
"It's going be tough. They are on the up particularly in the last 12 months where they have started playing good cricket. They have some of their best players back and they are gelling. It is going be tough out there but I hope we give a much better account of ourselves away."
Butcher said getting batsmen to pile on the runs was more important than the outcome of the tour.
"We have got to get enough runs. A lot can happen; our batsmen have got to step up and get totals for the bowlers to work with."