Fond memories of a Test journey

Enock Muchinjo

ANY cricketer from this country will tell you how a pretty special moment it is to finally receive that revered green Test cap, and make his five-day format debut for Zimbabwe.

It might be John Traicos, who at 45 was still good enough to play in Zimbabwe’s historic maiden Test against India back in 1992, although the Egyptian-born off-spinner previously played Test cricket for South Africa in 1969-70.

Or Malcolm Jarvis, who, in fact, is the oldest Zimbabwean to play Test cricket for the first time—making his debut in that India tie of ’92 just over a month shy of his 37th birthday.

And of course, it might be the youth brigade—your Tatenda Taibus, Brendan Taylors and Elton Chigumburas—who, circumstances varying, made their Test debuts as 18-year-olds.

Everyone, us press corps included, have their favourite Test memories and it was with great nostalgia on Monday to come across a throwback by world cricket governing body, ICC, reminding the world cricket family that February 4 in 1995 was the day Zimbabwe won a Test for the first time – defeating Pakistan by an innings and 64 runs in Harare.

It is hard to imagine that this past Monday marked exactly 24 years since that momentous occasion for Zimbabwean cricket, a victory that came on the back of five previous Test series and 10 matches.

A great number of Test players in the cricketing world today have been born after Zimbabwe’s historic first win more than two decades ago.

Memories of that feat are still quite fresh in some of us. But it is a reminder, perhaps, how fast you have aged when you consider that Brandon Mavuta and Wellington Masakadza—debutants when Zimbabwe beat Bangladesh last November to record our first overseas Test win in 17 years—were still unborn when Andy Flower, Grant Flower, Guy Whittall and Heath Streak guided us 24 years ago past a Pakistan side powered by greats like Wasim Akram, Aamer Sohail, Saeed Anwar and Saleem Malik.

Now, accompanying the ICC’s post on Monday was a question to its followers: “What has been their (Zimbabwe) finest moment in the longest format?”

Fans around the world shared theirs: the partnerships, sets of brothers playing together, the dogged determination to draw games, amongst other moments not easy to forget.

But for a lot of us from a country whose team does not get to win that many Test cricket matches, each time Zimbabwe has been victorious in the five-day format has been a moment to savour.

Infrequent as they are, Zimbabwean Test wins have particularly made the cricketing world sit up and take notice.

Few more so than the country’s historic first overseas series win, away in Pakistan at the end of 1998.

Neil Johnson and Murray Goodwin starred with the bat—defying the devastating pair of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis in Peshawar—with Heath Streak and Henry Olonga admirably spearheading a Zimbabwe bowling attack in trying conditions.

It will remain one of the finest hours of cricket in this country, a phase belonging to a brief golden era that would see Zimbabwe—then world cricket’s favourite underdog—floor India and South Africa at the World Cup in the UK a few months later.

Of course, every Test cricket win is special, and those Zimbabwe victories over Bangladesh, before they turned the tables on us, felt really good.

With Zimbabwe unable to play Test cricket due to self-imposed exile between 2005 and 2011, the Zimbabwean players, the public, local media, pretty much everybody in this country who loves the longest version of the game, had to endure six years without seeing the team now known these days as the Chevrons, taking to the field in the all-whites.

It means some of us who had not earned the right to enter the press box by February 2004—the last time Zimbabwe won its last Test match before the six-year hiatus—had never reported on our team’s victory in this form of the game.

That moment came in 2011 when Bangladesh toured for our comeback Test against in Harare and suffered a 130-run defeat to the hosts.

Years of watching Zimbabwe on TV, as uniform-clad schoolboys in the terraces, over a beer with mates in the stands, then through the defeats and controversies of post-2004 from the press box—finally, after five tense days in August 2011, I had to report to a world audience of Zimbabwe winning a Test cricket match.

ICC sent memories flooding back on Monday.