Upset results add flavor to sport. It is always fascinating when an underdog stuns a fancied side, when David topples Goliath. Zimbabwe’s shock victory over Pakistan in the second Test at Harare – their first Test victory against major opposition since 2001 - was straight out of the fiction books even if it was not their first victory over these opponents.
In fact it was their third and they have also defeated India twice but the days when these victories were notched up were very different.
At the time Zimbabwe were making reasonable progress after a promising beginning, they possessed players like the Flower brothers Andy and Grant, Dave Houghton and Heath Streak.
They had already proved themselves to be a competitive side in ODIs and had notched up famous wins over Australia and England in the 1983 and 1992 World Cup competitions. In the initial years after they played their inaugural Test against India in 1992 they did give the impression that they would provide more than useful competition against the senior Test sides.
Their status of a dangerous limited overs side received further impetus when they shocked South Africa in the 1999 World Cup.
Unfortunately in the new millennium unhappy off the field events hampered their progress. Political upheavals and mismanagement by Zimbabwe Cricket took their toll.
Symbolizing the cricketing unrest was the powerful statement by Andy Flower and Henry Olonga who took the field in the 2003 World Cup match against Namibia at Harare wearing black armbands ``mourning the death of democracy in our beloved Zimbabwe’’ in protest at human rights abuses by the Robert Mugabe regime.
Wisden called it ``one of the World Cup’s most enduring moments.’’ Three days later England refused to travel to Harare for their match against Zimbabwe citing safety fears.
The ICC asked Flower and Olonga to desist from making political gestures. Flower said he was not making a political statement but a humanitarian plea. As the tournament continued it became plain that Zimbabwe’s team selection had become highly politicized with preference given to those not critical of the Mugabe regime.
Not surprisingly Zimbabwe failed to ignite as a unit and it was no great surprise when they lost to Kenya. It was also clear by now that the playing days of Flower and Olonga were numbered.
A little later occurred a direct confrontation between Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) and the players over contract issues and sundry matters. In this disturbing scenario the game and the players became serious casualties.
In quick succession Stuart Carlisle, Craig Wishart and Streak retired. Carlisle minced no words saying that he was fed up by what is happening. ``I am tired of politics and I’d rather be away from them,’’ he said making it clear that he was being driven into retirement by the infighting inside the country’s cricket community.
Carlisle’s retirement followed that of Wishart who admitted that he was ``plain tired of Zimbabwe cricket, the fighting and everything.’’
But the biggest blow to hit Zimbabwe cricket was the retirement of Streak. He too had become disenchanted with the unhappy developments and although he was offered a new contract by ZC he did not sign it preferring to sign a county contract with Warwickshire who appointed Streak as captain.
At the time (2005) Streak did not rule out a return to Zimbabwe cricket at some time but in realistic terms he had put county over country and not unexpectedly did not play for Zimbabwe again.
All this naturally had an adverse effect on the team which hurtled from one inglorious defeat to another. The nadir came about in 2005 when within a space of a few months Zimbabwe suffered three straight innings defeats to New Zealand and India.
One of the reverses was by an innings and 294 days and the side was dismissed twice in one day emulating the unwanted record of India who suffered a similar embarrassment 53 years earlier. But India did not go down to a defeat in two days - which is what Zimbabwe had to endure at the hands of New Zealand at Harare.
There had been talk for some time of Bangladesh being stripped of Test status what with their woeful record. Now suddenly Zimbabwe were being bracketed with them.
The argument gained momentum when the same year Bangladesh won a two-Test series against Zimbabwe 1-0. A further crisis occurred when Phil Simmons the former West Indian opening batsman was sacked by ZC. The outspoken Simmons was quoted as saying that he fell out with ZC officials because ``there was no way I could listen to people who don’t even know which side of the bat is up.
They always wanted to tell me how to do my job yet the same people never even came to see us practice.’’ Agreeing with Simmons Carlisle said the crisis was not the fault of the players. ``You cannot expect them to perform when all this is happening around them,’’ he said.
Over the next few years things just went from bad to worse with defeats and debacles followed by virtual isolation from the Test arena and one could see a perceptible decline even in Zimbabwe’s ODI record.
All this led to the inevitable conclusion that Zimbabwe did not even find a place in the ICC rankings since they did not play the required minimum number of Tests. About the only opposition they came up against was Bangladesh and in fact six of their eleven victories have been notched up against that country.
The latest achievement against Pakistan has finally seen them back in the rankings at No 9 ahead of Bangladesh.
So will the latest triumph signal a turnaround in Zimbabwe’s fortunes? Perhaps it is a bit early to think along these lines but after the turbulent times the team has been through they deserve a change of luck.
By nature the cricketers have been keen and adventurous with their enthusiasm making up for any technical lapses. International cricket can certainly do with a stronger and more united Zimbabwe side around.