The emphatic Test return victory (by 130 runs), the ODI series win (3-2), the debut of one Brian Vitori — a left-arm seamer who mesmerised the crowds with a sweet swing, suffocating speed and accuracy briefly rolled back the years for many a Zimbabwean fan. For a moment, the team’s exploits captivated the world. Who could blame those who boldly claimed that Zimbabwe had returned to take its place in world cricket?
But six months down the line and three more Tests on, the story has shifted from romanticism to dismay with the team failing to live up to those heroics.
The comprehensive defeat at the hands of New Zealand by an innings and 301 runs has brought back the spectre of yesteryear failures.
In the Test match Zimbabwe was bowled out twice in a single day, something that only they and New Zealand have managed to achieve in the history of the game. This has triggered a flurry of derision from the local cricket world.
The barrage of attacks and ridicule over the New Zealand match would not have been as vitriolic had Brendan Taylor’s men won the Test matches when they played both the Black Caps and Pakistan in the home series.
Zimbabwe would not have had people doubting their Test readiness again, something they are surely tired of.
But after fluffing these two rare opportunities, they now find themselves in the all-too-familiar defensive position. They should expect little sympathy from fans and an international audience that is ever eager to pour scorn.
Zimbabwe’s failure to make good use of home conditions is a self-inflicted injury which is now proving damaging.
They will try hard to put up a brave face, telling the world that they are a lot better than results suggest, but displays tell a different story that is hard to dispute.
Zimbabwe Cricket will be combing through the debacle in search of clues on where they went wrong. They should have been as worried when Zimbabwe spectacularly climbed from a commanding position against New Zealand in Bulawayo, failing to get 100 runs with six wickets in hand and went on to lose the match. Even a draw would have been poor considering the tourists had given up on salvaging anything.
“Looking at the whole season in perspective I think it was a successful one. We had a number of good results, the end is not necessarily the best but we should be pleased that we came back to Test cricket and won our first match against Bangladesh convincingly,” said Cricket Committee chairman Alistair Campbell. “We should have won against Pakistan with better catching in the field and the same against New Zealand in Bulawayo, we really should have won.”
Should have won yes, but didn’t win and didn’t even draw is the part that should concern everyone involved.
Zimbabwe are past that stage where they should be applauded for merely competing. When will ZC start to expect the team to win matches?
Opportunities in Test cricket are few and far between, particularly for nations like Zimbabwe. This is particularly so with just three matches lined up this year. There will only be two coming up against Bangladesh and the year-ender against Pakistan.
A cursory analysis of the defeats clearly leaves the senior players standing accused of failing to lead the younger players and failing to rise to the occasion.
Only Taylor can stand up and plead not guilty, having been as consistent as he was throughout this international season with three more half-centuries in the limited overs matches.
Otherwise every other senior batsmen, especially Hamilton Masakadza, Elton Chigumbura, Stuart Matsikenyeri and Tatenda Taibu, have to shape up if the team is to prosper.
“I agree that the senior guys have been letting the team down in all these matches that we have been involved in, including the two Tests in Zimbabwe. In the New Zealand home Test, had Taibu and Taylor not thrown away their wickets easily we would have won that match. They failed to realise the importance of their wickets to winning that match. Then in New Zealand it was more glaring; the guys just failed to perform and they should be told that that they need to come up with match-winning runs and that is what we will look to rectify,” Campbell said.
In their defence ZC claim that international cricket trends have changed and it has become tough to win away from home.
They point at out how Sri Lanka was battered in South Africa, how India suffered a whitewash defeat in Australia and how Pakistan, playing at home in Dubai, thrashed number one ranked England in the Tests.
Zimbabwe’s heavy defeats, in their view, should therefore come as no surprise as it is happening everywhere. They, however, forget to add that Zimbabwe is failing to inflict such defeats on opponents playing at home.
With the new international season coming in a few months, Zimbabwe’s task is to once again prove that they are worthy of the premier format of the game — the same task they had last term.