MARCH 10 2004. To the handful of spectators who were already at Harare Sports Club that sunny morning, another ro
utine victory for Zimbabwe appeared given the minute Heath Streak won the toss and sent in Bangladesh to bat.
This was a Bangladesh side that had never won a one-day international since joining the elite Test league four years earlier coming up against experienced and talented Zimbabwe.
A total of 238 seemed modest for Zimbabwe to chase — though Streak, Douglas Hondo, Sean Ervine, Grant Flower and Raymond Price had been expected to do a better job with the ball.
As Flower sauntered from the pavilion to open the innings for Zimbabwe, defeat at the hands of the Tigers seemed inconceivable.
And none might have panicked when Flower was trapped leg-before on two after facing just five balls — Zimbabwe still had Stuart Carlisle, Tatenda Taibu, Ervine, Dion Ebrahim and Streak to look up to.
But by the time Streak became the seventh wicket on 30 in the 45th over with Zimbabwe on 199, the unimaginable was about to happen.
The moment Hondo was clean-bowled by Tareq Aziz after facing one ball, Price and Blessing Mahwire found it challenging to muster nine runs to win from the remaining four balls.
Bangladesh had done it, winning the match by eight wickets.
Zimbabwe, however, went on to win the other two matches of the ODI series that were closely contested.
Zimbabwe Cricket managing director Ozias Bvute claims the eight-run defeat was the straw that broke the camel’s back — Streak lost the captaincy to Taibu after the series, 15 white players rebelled and the whole fiasco degenerated into an ugly racial farce.
Bvute, then a Zimbabwe Cricket Union director responsible for the integration of black players, this week revisited the defeat although some of his claims have in the past been contested.
“Previously the Zimbabwe team was not held accountable for its performance with the same core of players on contracts,” he told Independent Sport. “When Bangladesh beat us on the 10th of March 2004 we felt it incumbent upon us as the custodians of the game on behalf of the people of Zimbabwe to ask the team to account for the defeat.
“Obviously there was reluctance on the part of those who were benefiting from the status quo and among the reasons submitted for the defeat was the inclusion of the same upcoming players. We could not allow a situation where a handful would dictate team selection and composition to the detriment of the majority.”
Two years down the line, Bangladesh are back in Harare to face Zimbabwe who are no longer with almost all the stars they stunned on March 10 — Flower, Streak, Ervine, Price, Carlisle, Taibu, Ebrahim, Hondo and Barney Rogers.
The player revolts and administration squabbles that rocked the game over the past two years have ensured Zimbabwe remain with none of their experienced players. Only Mahwire and Stuart Matsikenyeri — scantily experienced enough to lead Zimbabwe’s rebuilding — remain available for national duty.
Ironically, Zimbabwe’s last success in a one-dayer against Test opposition was a 31-run win against Bangladesh in Chittagong on January 24 2005. Since then Zimbabwe have lost three more times to Bangladesh.
On the other hand, Bangladesh have managed to retain the nucleus of the team that was in Harare two years ago — captain Habibul Bashar, Mohamed Ashraful, Tapash Baisya, Mohammed Rafique, Khaled Mashud, Rajin Saleh and Alok Kopali.
Inevitably, Bangladesh return to Zimbabwe carrying the favourites tag ahead of their first ODI tomorrow.
“Ever since they gained Test status the Bangladesh squad has been revolving around a group that includes captain Habibul Bashar, so they come into the ODI series as a stable experienced side,” Bvute admitted.
“On our part we have had to rebuild twice in the past two years due to circumstances beyond our control and so we will be fielding an inexperienced but vastly talented side that will be competitive.”
He added: “We expect our team to be competitive and to build on the positives from the tour to the West Indies, our participation in the ICC Triangular Cup thereafter that showed our pedigree over associate member countries and the continued exposure for some with the UK clubs, others against the Bangladesh ‘A’ and then most of the squad in South Africa this week.”
But the recent Bangladesh A visit to Zimbabwe must be a cause for concern to Bvute and his colleagues, as the tourists comfortably romped to a 4-1 win in a one-day series.
The Bangladesh A success is probably the reason Bashar and his coach Dav Whatmore are confident their senior side can easily overcome Zimbabwe.
“It should be noted that the Bangladesh ‘A’ tour of Zimbabwe was for us not an end in itself but a link in the process that we began after our board deliberately suspended our participation in Test matches until next year following careful consideration of performances then by Zimbabwe ‘A’ and the senior team,” Bvute said.
“We then advised the ICC and with its help and that of member countries began a programme to ensure that our talented but inexperienced players were exposed to as much competitive cricket as possible. Thus the aim was exposure and development with successful results obviously being a bonus. We believe that we are continuing along this road map.”
Bvute refused to take comfort from a Zimbabwe select side’s success in warm-up tour in South Africa this week.
“We do not see the Pretoria one-dayers as a barometer (of Zimbabwe’s strength) because the technical team is bringing together the players who were in the UK and those who played against Bangladesh ‘A’ in warm-ups for the Bangladesh tour,” Bvute said. “The Pretoria matches are part of the process that will best be judged by assessing our performance against Bangladesh.”
Of Zimbabwe’s seven players who went to the UK after a tour of the Caribbean, four of them — Brendan Taylor, Edward Rainsford, Anthony Ireland and captain Terrence Duffin — have been called up. Taylor was with the Zimbabwe select in South Africa while the other three were expected home yesterday.
Charles Coventry, a key player in Zimbabwe’s rebuilding exercise, has snubbed a call-up after he allegedly fell out with national team coach Kevin Curran and manager Andy Pycroft.
Bvute said there are efforts to resolve the impasse, although Coventry said he would never avail himself as long as Curran and Pycroft were still in charge.
March 10 2004. The day is historic — whichever one looks at it. Come tomorrow, a result that was “obvious” is not anymore.