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From Fletcher and Houghton to Cremer

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Zimbabwe_cricketI first heard about the Zimbabweans when Kapil Dev scored 175 not out on the 18th of June, 1983 at Tunbridge Wells, in one of the matches of the Prudential World Cup. He took India from a dismal 17 for 5 to a respectable total that the Indian bowlers were capable of defending. That is an innings which we will never get to watch, as it was never telecast. 

At that time, it was wicketkeeper-batsman Dave Houghton, all-rounder Kevin Curran (whose son now plays for England) and wily old warhorse John Traicos (who had made his Test debut for South Africa in 1970), among others, whose names remain in memory. This was 3 years after Robert Mugabe had taken over as Prime Minister of this landlocked country in Southern Africa.

 

Since their foray into Test cricket in 1992 – almost the same time that South Africa made a comeback to international cricket, Zimbabweans have been skippered by David Houghton, Andy Flower, Alistair Campbell, Heath Streak, Brian Murphy, Stuart Carlisle, Tatenda Taibu (the first black man to skipper the side), Brendon Taylor, Hamilton Masakadza, and now, Graeme Cremer. 

 

In ODIs, Duncan Fletcher was the first one to captain the side (in the 1983 World Cup to begin with), followed by Traicos, Houghton, (Andy) Flower, Campbell, Streak, Grant Flower (Andy’s younger brother), Guy Whittall, Murphy, Carlisle, Taibu, Terry Duffin, Prosper Utseya, Masakadza, Elton Chigumbura, Taylor and now Cremer. I recall how under Campbell, the Zimbabweans were a force to reckon with in the ODIs, except that on many occasions, they used to choke after excellent starts. 

In 1997, I recall that they made history by including 3 pairs of brothers in the squad in a Test match against New Zealand – the Rennies (John and Gavin), Flowers (Andy and Grant) and the Strangs (Paul and Bryan). In addition, Guy Whittall in the playing XI and the twelfth man Andy Whittall are cousins. 

The next year, chicken-farmer Eddo Brandes bagged Zimbabwe’s first-ever hat-trick in ODIs by dismissing Nick Knight, John Crawley and Nasser Hussein for a combined total of 3 runs in a match which Zimbabwe won convincingly and by a big margin. I remember how Hamilton Masakadza strode into the scene with a century on Test debut against the West Indians early this century. 

Then, political instability in this ‘elephant-country’ affected its cricket badly. Many cricketers who showed tremendous potential and promise as cricketers (some of whom decided to leave the country) had their international cricketing careers cut short. I flash back to the 1980s, when Graeme Hick, a Zimbabwean, opted to play for England in Test cricket and ODIs and, at that time, was hailed as Bradmanesque (in other words, he gave the impression that he would have done what the likes of Tendulkar, Lara and Ponting did, much before they appeared on the scene).

 

When Tatendu Taibu debuted for Zimbabwe and then became the youngest-ever cricketer to captain a national side, the idea that a black Zimbabwean would be leading the country to glory seemed to be an idea whose time had come, to quote Victor Hugo. But, after some years, Taibu decided to quit international cricket and in his own words, ‘work for the Church’, as he felt that that was his true calling.

 

Zimbabwe did not play Test cricket voluntarily between 2005 and 2011. They are trying hard now to get back to playing Test cricket on a regular basis. Last year, they lost four Test matches in a row – two to New Zealand and two to Sri Lanka, on Zimbabwean soil. A striking observation can, however, be made from one of the matches against Sri Lanka. Even though Zimbabwe lost, captain Cremer was the Man of the Match with an impressive all-round performance, in addition to marshalling his men on the field.

Thus far, Zimbabwe has played 101 Tests, won 11 (10%), lost 64 (63%) and drawn the rest.

This year (2017), at the time of writing, Zimbabwe has played 12 ODIs, winning 6 of them – 2 of them against Afghanistan, 3 against Sri Lanka and one against Scotland. Five of the 12 have been played on foreign soil; and of these, 3 have been won by Zimbabwe. What attracted me suddenly to Zimbabwe was their ODI-series win in Sri Lanka. 

This was their 18th series win (in 81 ODI-series played till date). Starting off with a win at Galle, thanks to a century by opener Solomon Mire (96-ball 112), they were down 1-2, with 2 matches to go. The fourth, they won, thanks to Messrs. Duckworth and Lewis and the rain-gods. In the tie-breaker, thanks to good bowling and a powerful 70-odd by former skipper Masakadza at the top of the order, Zimbabwe clinched the series. 

Cremer seems to be someone special. A bowling all-rounder essentially, batting lower down the order, ‘captain’s responsibility’ has brought out the best in him as a batsman. The team is balanced now – black, white and brown – and it is this balance which will most likely push them up the ladder while preserving unity and national integrity in the future. 

Cricket can very well play a key role in the Zimbabwean resurgence as a country with true potential in the future, even if, as Mrs. Mugabe said, Robert Mugabe’s corpse contests elections and holds on to power. 

As this country in turmoil is trying to re-establish itself, two others, far away, have just been awarded Test-playing status. What challenges will Ireland and Afghanistan pose a struggling Zimbabwe? We shall see…

 

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G Venkatesh (born 1972) is a senior lecturer in Energy and Environment, at Karlstad University in S...

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