“I’ve been quoted about fearless cricket,” Houghton said, “Yes, we want to play fearless cricket; we want to see guys expressing themselves. I’ve seen these guys play franchise cricket, and I’ve seen what they can do; and [then] see them play international cricket, especially against these strong sides, and freeze a little bit. Somehow, I’m trying to take away that freezing.
“For me, to see our two youngsters go out there against [Mitchell] Starc and [Josh] Hazlewood and get us 40 off the first ten without losing a wicket – that was a big plus for us. Now you can sit down in a team meeting and say, “Yes, it was a little different and a little scary going out first against these guys but look what you achieved. What can you do the next game and the game after?”.
“It’s building blocks all the time. Tours like this don’t happen very often for us, so when you get the opportunity it’s a real learning for us.”
Houghton was open in admitting that the skill gap between Zimbabwe and teams such as India and Australia is “huge”, but is focusing on ensuring the team move back up the rankings and compete with sides around them.
He hoped that some of what the players learn in Townsville can be put to use in the T20 World Cup next month when they will return to Australia for the Group B qualifiers in Hobart with the aim of reaching the main draw.
In the more immediate term, Houghton wanted to see an improvement in the team’s fielding for the second ODI on Wednesday, recalling previous landmark victories and how it is an area Zimbabwe can compete in regardless of batting and bowling skill.
“The skill gap is huge between us, India, Australia, [and] England – there’s no hiding from that,” he said. “Your batters are better than us, they’re more experienced, your bowlers are taller and faster than us. What we can do is field competitively, which I wasn’t happy about the other day; [I] thought we were lethargic and looked very jetlagged.
“For us to compete with these sides and try to get a win against them – which we’ve done over the years with our giant-killing sides – every part of your game has to be right on song from the beginning. If we put a score on the board, [and] then bowl and field incredibly well, we can put enough pressure on sides [so] that if they aren’t quite on their game we can beat them.”
“The games we won against Bangladesh – and when we did compete with India – we got all the runs at the middle and back, and nothing at the front. Hopefully we’ll put both ends together on this tour”
Dave Houghton wants more Zimbabwe’s top-order batters
“What we talked about at the end of the game is how we get that last bit of our innings organised a bit better,” he said. “They were all trying to take it on but weren’t quite good enough at it, so is there another way? Can we ramp it a bit? Maybe, if we don’t hook, can we back away and cut?
“These are all things for them to solve themselves, but we need to play the backend better which, for us, [is] a new situation. The games we won against Bangladesh – and when we did compete well with India – we got all the runs at the middle and back, and nothing at the front. So hopefully we’ll put both ends together at one stage on this tour.”
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo