There may have been only one person who was not panicking when Zimbabwe were shot out for 164 in the first innings of the first Test against New Zealand. The same person knew they would do better as the series wore on. That person was their captain Graeme Cremer.
“When you don’t play enough cricket you can come into a Test match and be shell-shocked and that’s what happened,” he said. “I knew guys were going to fight back.”
Even in that first innings, Zimbabwe rallied hard with Prince Masvaure and Donald Tiripano posting 85 for the ninth-wicket. They sunk again, to 17 for 4 in the second innings, but found their first hero. Craig Ervine scored the first fifty for a Zimbabwean batsman in the series and Sean Williams scored the first hundred.
Zimbabwe did not get to a second new ball in either innings of the first Test, but kept New Zealand in the field for 143.4 overs the next time they batted. Ervine picked up where he left off and scored a career-best 146. Chamu Chibhabha showed his potential as opener with 60 and Peter Moor delivered with 71 on debut. Although their final effort was a flop — bowled out for 132 after being 97 for 3 — Cremer was pleased with the progression.
“It was good to see the guys learn and willing to get stuck in. For two of the guys to get hundreds was excellent,” he said. “And then Donald, with bat and ball looked like he had been playing for a couple of years now. He is one of the guys that really put up his hand. Prince also showed he can play. Our younger guys just need that little bit of confidence.”
Zimbabwe’s biggest problem has been their bowling, which lacked variation. The seamers did not make New Zealand’s batsmen play enough and although Cremer was the pick of the spinners on either side, he needed too much from his part-time options, which took pressure off. Zimbabwe had to settle for a mere six New Zealand wickets in the second Test.
Despite that, Cremer defended his attack for bending their backs on a surface so helpless even New Zealand were wondering how to bowl the opposition out twice. “The bowlers worked hard. When we prepared a wicket like that, we knew it was going to be tough to take 20 wickets and they’ve got a good batting line-up that a lot of teams would struggle to get wickets against so credit to our guys for working hard.”
Despite losing 0-2, that Zimbabwe showed improvement from one Test to the next, which spoke to their ability and desire to keep playing at the highest level, even as world cricket regularly ignores them. New Zealand, though, seem interested and impressed. Their polite press-conference chatter about how hard Zimbabwe made it for their bowlers was backed up by genuine observations of the improvements Zimbabwe made between matches. Kane Williamson even predicted that with more game time, Zimbabwe will get better quickly.
Cremer felt the same way. “There are a lot of people in the system now who have realised that we need to play more cricket,” he said. “We are heading in the right direction, if we can keep getting a lot more cricket. We are getting some A team tours and our first-class structure is going to be a lot longer.”
As things stand, there has been no announcement about the format of the new domestic system except that Zimbabwe are moving away from a franchise competition to a provincial one. There is also no clarity about upcoming international fixtures. Zimbabwe are not due to tour anywhere in the next year and the Sri Lanka series scheduled in the country for later this year may not include Tests. After two weeks of capturing some attention, Zimbabwe may fade into obscurity again. But there is one person who is unlikely to be panicking about that. Their new captain Graeme Cremer.