Zimbabwe- Riding the winds of change

Last Updated: Mon, Feb 21, 2011 12:00 hrs

Australian captain Kim Hughes stated on the eve of the 1983 Cup, "West Indies are the team to beat; you can shuffle the rest." That year Team Zimbabwe went on to defeat this Australian unit by 13 runs, to become the first non-Test playing nation to beat a Test team and thus announced its arrival at the World Cup stage in style. It was not a mere flash in the pan as the same team led by Duncan Fletcher came close to pulling off another coup in the tournament when they had the Indians in the bag at 17/5 at Tunbridge Wells on June 18th 1983. They were denied this glory by Indian skipper Kapil Dev, who scored his historic innings of 175* off 138 balls going in at number 6. The rest, as they say, is now history and India went on to win their first and only World Cup yet.

In 1987, Zimbabwe was the only non-Test playing nation to participate in the World Cup but lost all their matches and did not move past the first round. However, they went down fighting. The Africans had forced the Kiwis on the backfoot until Martin Crowe took a legendary catch to end Zimbabwe skipper David Houghton's magnificent innings of 141. The match was played in extremely hot conditions in Hyderabad, and Houghton reputedly lost more than 6 kilos during his innings. Sadly, his heroics were not enough to take his team past the other Test nations in the fray.

In 1992, the team garnered its share of the headlines by being involved in a match with Sri Lanka at New Plymouth where both teams totalled over 300 runs each. Wicketkeeper-batsman Andy Flower came to the party with 115* on debut but again fell short as Sri Lanka came up on top. Zimbabwe then went on to sign off their Cup campaign with a shock 9-run victory over England, where Eddo Brandes took 4 wickets for 21 runs in 10 overs and the side bowled England out for a paltry 125.

The 1996 tournament turned out to be an ordinary one for the Zimbabweans, their performance impaired with the absence of Dave Houghton who had his foot broken in a test match just before the Cup. But Leg spinning all-rounder Paul Strang announced heralded his arrival to international cricket with 3 wickets in 7 balls against West Indies on February 16th 1996. The Kenya versus Zimbabwe match in this edition was abandoned due to rain, when the helicopter employed to dry the ground at Patna ended up blowing the covers away. The match was replayed later wherein Zimbabwe took their lone victory in the Cup, beating Kenya by 5 wickets as Paul Strang took 5/21.

By contrast, their stint in the 1999 World Cup took an upswing with shock victories over India and South Africa, and the team was unlucky to ultimately lose out on a semi-final berth. Pace bowler/opener Neil Johnson was the star of the series. Increasing political turmoil and economic hardship in the country finally started telling on the team's results in the 2003 and 2007 editions. Their woes were also compounded with the early retirement of several international standard players. Among these was Andy Flower, who was once rated as the top batsman in Test cricket. He and Henry Olonga had to seek political asylum after wearing a black armband in 2003 to protest against the Robert Mugabe regime, "mourning the death of democracy" in their beloved Zimbabwe.

The current squad begins with a near-clean slate. The team for the cricket World Cup 2011 is a mix of mostly 20-25 year olds headed by 24 year old captain, all-rounder Elton Chigumbura. Also in the squad is aggressive right-handed batsman Charles "Chappie" Coventry who holds the record for the highest score ever by a Zimbabwean after he smashed an unbeaten 194 against Bangladesh in 2009. This was also the highest ever one-day international score until Sachin Tendulkar obliterated it with his 200 against South Africa in February 2010.

Tatenda Taibu, wicketkeeper-batsman, was the country's first native African captain and counts among their few international class players. In him, Zimbabwe has found a worthy successor to Andy Flower. With all-rounder Sean Ervine pulling out due to personal commitments, the likes of Kyle Jarvis, Ray Price and off-break bowler Prosper Utseya will have to bolster the bowling department as Zimbabwe take on World Cup giants Australia on 21st February 2011.

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