Zimbabwe could not have asked for a better return to Test cricket following an almost six-year exile when they outplayed Bangladesh in the one-off Test to win by a margin of 130 runs on the fifth day at the Harare Sports Club grounds. It was at this venue that Zimbabwe played their final Test match in September 2005 against India before they were exiled from the highest echelons of the game. After a series of poor Test performances following the resignation of several senior players, the Zimbabwean team was voluntarily suspended from Test cricket by its cricket board, with ICC encouragement. It was felt by observers that the Zimbabwean national team was not of sufficient Test standard, and that competing against full member sides would do little to improve standards, given the likely one-sided nature of the games. Bangladesh, for a long time seen as the ‘whipping boys’ of Test cricket, recorded their first win against Zimbabwe in January 2005, and were generally regarded as being of a superior standard. But on August 8, 2011, Zimbabwe recorded a resounding victory in the one-off Test match to announce their return to Test cricket.
Pic of Brendan Taylor
It was a dominant all round performance that brought Zimbabwe the victory with their new captain Brendan Taylor leading from the front with contributions of 71 and 105 not out and others like Hamilton Mazakadza (104), Vusi Sibanda (78), Tatenda Taibu (59) and bowlers Brian Vitori, Kyle Jarvis and Chris Mpofu playing the supporting role with a near flawless performance.
The celebrations at the Harare SC was described thus, “At the Harare Sports Club, in front of little more than 150 people, Zimbabwe made history. As the Zimbabweans celebrated their historic victory with champagne-soaked joy at the post-match presentation ceremony, the Bangladesh players stood still for a while, watching the revelry. It was a poignant moment as the group seemed collectively lost in thought, pondering their lost opportunities.
“The players drenched each other in any alcoholic beverage they could find but after the post-match press conference, things settled down. The Maiden pub continued serving its regular clientele, many of whom didn’t seem to care that a victorious national team was celebrating at the same venue. Burgers were served and eaten, beers were drunk, cigarettes were smoked and in the far corner, pool was played. If ever anyone wondered why Zimbabwe cricketers are so humble, they need only look at this scene to understand it. There were a couple of well-dones said and hands shaken, but what it was really about was normal people having a relaxing time. In any other country it may have been the scene of the aftermath of a club match. Had it been any different, it would have lost that little something that made it so special.”
Having started off on this high note it is upto Zimbabwe to keep the momentum going and become a competitive side so that they get more opportunities to play Test cricket against the rest of the full member nations of the ICC.
What led to Zimbabwe’s suspension from Test cricket was the increasing politicization of cricket, including selectorial policy. The declining situation in Zimbabwe disrupted the 2003 Cricket World Cup, which was jointly hosted by Zimbabwe and South Africa where England forfeited a match scheduled to be played in Zimbabwe, risking their own progress through the competition, citing “security concerns” as the reason. Zimbabwean players Andy Flower and fast bowler Henry Olonga wore black armbands, for “mourning the death of democracy” in Zimbabwe. Both were immediately dismissed from the team and applied for political asylum overseas. Since the 2003 World Cup a succession of Zimbabwe’s best players like the Flower brothers Andy and Grant, Andy Blignaut, Murray Goodwin, David Houghton, Alistair Campbell, Paul Strang, Eddo Brandes and Neil Johnson ended their international careers early and a new breed of predominantly multi-disciplined players formed a solid backbone to a competitive, if usually unsuccessful, side.
In 2004 when Heath Streak was sacked as captain by Zimbabwe Cricket it prompted a walkout by 14 other players in protest against political influence in the team’s management and selection policies. Zimbabwe was represented by fringe players who were not of international standard and in 2005 they suffered heavy losses in Tests to South Africa, New Zealand and India which led to Zimbabwe Cricket suspending the country from playing Test cricket although their status as a Test nation was unaffected. The worsening political situation in the country also did not help disrupting the team and contributing to their Test suspension.
With the improvement in the political climate in the country Zimbabwe are now gradually easing back into the Test fold and one hopes they continue to improve as a Test nation for Test cricket needs strong nations for its very survival against the threat of other shorter formats of the game.
As for Bangladesh the defeat was a bitter blow for them and their new coach Stuart Law, who preferred to stick with them than with Sri Lanka. Bangladesh captain Shakib Al Hasan described his team’s defeat: “I don’t know if this is the most disappointing day for us or not, but it is disappointing to lose a cricket match, especially in this situation against them. Taking nothing away from [the opposition], they were disciplined. They outplayed us in both departments.”
Law said, “There’s a lot of talk going on. It’s time to stop talking and put them into action. Everything was discussed but if you can’t back the talk with actions, you look stupid.”
The problem with Bangladesh cricket lies with its Cricket Board. Until the Board puts in place a proper domestic first-class structure and encourages more Test cricket (they hadn’t played a Test for 14 months) Bangladesh will continue to be in the wilderness at the highest level of the game. Zimbabwe has shown with their Test victory over them that they are prepared to extend that success further which could leave Bangladesh trailing behind.
Second Cheer: “Vitori shines on debut” by Jeffrey Murimbechi
Zimbabwe continued the remarkable triumphs celebrating their return to Test
cricket with victory in the first one-day international by four wickets.
Their heroes were Brian Vitori, who took five wickets, and Vusi Sibanda,
with a superb innings of 96. The margin may seem rather narrow, but in fact
Zimbabwe dominated the match almost from start to finish; even when the
Bangladeshi sixth wicket recorded a century partnership and when Zimbabwe
lost three quick wickets in the middle order, they had already established
such a strong position that they were always likely to win. As in the Test
match, their inexperience meant they did not win as easily as they should
Zimbabwe won the toss on a bright sunny morning and decided to put
Bangladesh in to bat on a greenish pitch. They could scarcely have made a
better start with the ball. Chris Mpofu and Vitori bowled superbly right
from the start, pitching a good full length and bowling very straight,
backed by very tight fielding, and the Bangladeshi batsmen found themselves
totally pinned down. In fact the score was only 7, in the sixth over, when
Tamim Iqbal, frustrated, attempted to pull a ball from Vitori that was not
short enough, and lobbed a catch to mid-on; he made 3 off 16 balls.
Wickets continued to fall as the batsmen sought in vain to break the
shackles. Vitori was the man who took the wickets, the first four, but
Mpofu bowled superbly with no luck. When the latter was replaced by Elton
Chigumbura, the new bowler immediately took a wicket, reducing Bangladesh to
43 for five after 17 overs. But then came the fightback, as Mushfiqur Rahim
came in to partner Shakib Al Hasan. At this point Zimbabwe seemed rather to
lose the plot; the back-up bowling was fair enough but less deadly, and some
of the fielders seemed to run out of adrenaline and there were several
misfields. Tatenda Taibu, who has not been at his best behind the stumps,
badly missed stumping Shakib when he had 17, and this proved an expensive
miss. The 100 came up in the 30th over as the batsmen worked the ball
around the field against the spinners. Both batsmen passed 50, Shakib off
59 balls and Rahim off 75.
The partnership was eventually broken when it reached 105, when Shakib
drilled a catch off the accurate but part-time bowler Hamilton Masakadza to
short extra cover, where a very sharp catch was picked up by Prosper Utseya,
who was guilty of several misfields during the innings. He made 53 off 63
balls, and Rahim soon followed, holing out at long-on off it for 59 off 91
balls. It was the bowler’s 100th ODI wicket, following Heath Streak and
Grant Flower for Zimbabwe, and reduced Bangladesh to 161 for seven in the
44th over. Vitori came back to take a fifth wicket, finishing with five for
30, a record for a Zimbabwean on his ODI debut. He is also only the seventh
bowler to take five one debut. Mpofu conceded only 20 runs in 8.4 overs, a
magnificent effort and it was quite unfair that he should be the only bowler
to fail to take a wicket. The Bangladesh innings ended in the penultimate
over for 184, but Zimbabwe should not have allowed them to get anywhere near
that total after such a good start.
When Zimbabwe batted, Brendan Taylor and Sibanda were at such ease against
the seamers that after three overs had been bowled for 20 runs, Shakib
brought on his spinners, Abdur Razzak and himself. It proved a wise move,
as he drew Taylor forward and bowled him through the gate for 8. Sibanda,
however, looked in superb form, and when Masakadza joined him he began
stroking the ball all around the field, bringing up the 50 in the ninth
over. Masakadza, not to be outdone, swung a ball from Shakib for six over
midwicket. It seemed that a supremely confident Zimbabwe was racing to a
Sibanda ran to his fifty off 48 balls, and the team 100 came up in only the
19th over. The score reached 112 when Masakadza, in one of those mix-ups
which tend to happen when Sibanda is one of the batsmen, was run out by a
direct hit from midwicket; he made 41 and the partnership had added 86 runs.
Sibanda, unperturbed by this, hit 11 off the next over from Mahmadullah,
including a six over long-on. Taibu was bowled without scoring by a superb
delivery from Rubel Hossain that jagged back on him and knocked out his
middle stump; 124 for three. Next ball was a similar one to the left-handed
Craig Ervine, who edged it to the keeper, and suddenly Bangladesh were back
in the game.
Sibanda still continued to play his own way, though, playing his strokes
superbly, and with him now was Forster Mutizwa, brought into the team in
place of Tino Mawoyo. Then, when he reached the eighties and began to stare
a century in the face, he slowed down and lost his fluency. He suddenly
broke free to drive a ball from Suhrawadi Shuvo for six, and a single took
him to 90, with 25 still needed for victory. But on 96 he miscued a pull
against Hossain and lobbed a catch to midwicket; he faced only 102 balls and
hit eight fours and two sixes. Ten runs were still required for victory,
and the batsmen made very heavy weather of them, losing Chigumbura for 4 and
taking another five overs before crawling over the finishing line. Hossain
took four for 27 in his ten overs, and had he been brought on earlier,
Bangladesh might have turned the tables.
Third Cheer: “Vitori and Sibanda sink Bangladesh,” by Firdose Moonda in cricinfo