January 12, 2001

ZCO editorial, 12 January, 2001

A Happy New Millennium to all our readers. Zimbabwe became the first international cricket team to win a series in the new millennium when they picked up a 2-1 one-day victory over New Zealand by the narrowest possible margin of one wicket. Once again we owe that victory to our two great world-class players, Andy Flower and Heath Streak, who at the moment stand head and shoulders above their teammates. The New Zealand tour is covered elsewhere in this issue.

I wrote on the eve of the Carlton and United World Series in Australia, where Zimbabwe take on Australia and West Indies. It is almost inconceivable that Australia will fail to win the round-robin section and also the finals. It is hard to see them losing a match, unless Brian Lara plays a blinder. The vital question is who will be the losing finalists?

ZIMBABWE OR WEST INDIES?

West Indian morale is low after losing five-nil to Australia in the recently concluded Test series, although they did show signs of picking themselves up in the final Test, and went into the final day with a real chance of victory, only to be overwhelmed by the greater confidence and willpower of the Australians once again. But they were badly stung by their three losses in three matches to Zimbabwe in England six months ago and will be keen for revenge.

Their wild card is Brian Lara. His genius has been expressed only occasionally on this tour, but if he runs into top form there will be nothing that Zimbabwe or anybody else can do about it. There is also the matter of acclimatization in their favour. They are well used to the Australian conditions by now, while Zimbabwe have only had a few days to get used to the country after the comparative cold of New Zealand and the slow, low pitches of both New Zealand and India. So Zimbabwe could struggle in their first match for this reason.

Once acclimatized, though, Zimbabwean confidence and morale should be higher than that of the West Indies - unless, as I say, Lara strikes his best form! Certainly the clashes between these two teams should be the pick of the tournament. Against Australia it should be a different matter. Probably few of the Zimbabwean players really believe they can beat Australia, and in the past when playing against teams while under this handicap they have frequently competed well, but failed at the last ditch. Still, they never really believed they could beat South Africa either, and now they have done it twice. Accidents can happen! But the likes of Andy Flower and Heath Streak have the talent and self-belief to seize the moment should it arise. But it would be great to see the whole team playing Australia with the genuine belief that victory, if unlikely, is still possible.

AUSTRALIAN RECORD RUN

Australia now, as has been widely publicized, are sitting on 15 consecutive Test victories, a run that began when they beat Zimbabwe in Harare at the start of last season. It is an impressive record, but would probably not have held had they played South Africa, or probably England, or in Asia during that period.

There is so much to admire about Australian cricket. Added to their rich talent, they have an inbred self-belief and determination that enables them to succeed against the best opposition in tight corners, as they demonstrated against South Africa especially in the World Cup. Their self-belief results in attacking cricket, which is perhaps the main reason why South Africa at present will not challenge that record.

SOUTH AFRICAN THINKING

The Boxing Day Test at Durban against Sri Lanka perhaps indicates where South African thinking is at present. After three days' play on a docile pitch, South Africa had the opportunity to enforce the follow-on, but chose not to do so. Then the fourth day was washed out by rain, making a draw almost inevitable. Had South Africa decided to enforce the follow-on, as I suspect the Australians would have, they would still have been in with a good chance of victory in the final day. What about the weather forecast? I have heard nothing about that, but unless it was utterly misleading (in which case we would surely have heard something) it seems it was not consulted.

Then, after the drawn match, we heard moans from the South Africans about the pitch, and barely disguised calls for the preparation of pitches that would suit the strong South African pace attack and put the Sri Lankans on the back foot. Don't the South Africans back themselves to beat Sri Lanka at home even on a flat pitch? And what real satisfaction can there be in beating Sri Lanka on a pitch biased strongly in their favour? Perhaps South Africa should take a pride in their ability, if they believe they have it, to beat Sri Lanka in any conditions, certainly at home. Part of this call was perhaps a reaction against the Sri Lankan pitches, which always favour the home team in general and Muttiah Muralitharan in particular. But I think the Australians would have backed themselves to win with or without help from the pitch - although in fact on their last visit to Sri Lanka, immediately before they visited Zimbabwe, they actually lost.

THE GREATEST EVER?

With what many would call typical Australian brashness, many Aussies are now proclaiming their team the greatest ever in the history of the game. The Australian teams to tour England in 1902 (with Victor Trumper) and 1921 (under Warwick Armstrong, with pace bowlers Gregory and McDonald) have always been strong candidates for that title, but we are not likely to find many people around with clear memories of either nowadays.

Since the Second World War, claims have been put forward primarily for Don Bradman's Australian team of 1948 and Clive Lloyd's West Indian team of around 1984, with its awesome battery of pace bowlers. Also in the running are the England team of the mid-1950s and the South African team of 1970. Let's have a brief look at the greatest names of those teams.

Australia 1948: Don Bradman, Arthur Morris, Sid Barnes, Neil Harvey, Lindsay Hassett, Keith Miller, Ray Lindwall, Bill Johnston, Don Tallon.

West Indies 1984: Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Jeff Dujon.

England mid-1950s: Len Hutton, Denis Compton, Peter May, Colin Cowdrey, Godfrey Evans, Frank Tyson, Brian Statham, Fred Trueman, Jim Laker, Tony Lock, Trevor Bailey.

South Africa 1970: Ali Bacher, Barry Richards, Graeme Pollock, Eddie Barlow, Trevor Goddard, Lee Irvine, Mike Procter, Peter Pollock, Denis Lindsay.

Good as the present Australian side is, I don't think it can quite match any of these teams for sheer power, especially in the batting department. The real strength of today's Australians lies in their overwhelming self-confidence and determination that enables them to play even above the considerable total of their skills.

AUSSIE SLAMS AUSSIE

But there remains the one great defect of the Australian team and that is their continued disrespect for the best sporting traditions of the game. When I say so, my words can be readily ignored, if they are read at all, but when one of Australia's greatest cricketers says so, then even Steve Waugh's side can scarcely ignore it. Neil Harvey, who played for the country between 1947 and 1963 and was one of Bradman's 1948 greats, has after the final Test against West Indies come out very strongly against the behaviour of his own national side.

Zimbabwe has not encountered the worst of Australian behaviour on the field, mainly I suspect because since the 1983 World Cup we have never seriously challenged them in a match. Should we start challenging them, it might be different, although sledging is less common in one-day cricket due to the faster pace of the game. There was not much to object to during most of the recent Australia-West Indies series, and I wondered at one stage if the Australians really were cleaning up their image. But come a close match in the final Test, and the Australians showed just what comes out when they are squeezed. Neil Harvey was disgusted. One cannot imagine the great Sir Donald Bradman would have much time for on-field misbehaviour either. Steve Waugh is said to have a great respect for the history of the game, but he seems to ignore its traditions.

Waugh is the captain, responsible for his team's behaviour, but he has too often taken part himself in this antagonism. It is a tragedy that such an otherwise admirable cricketer should be responsible for lowering the standards of the game. He is the one player in world cricket that almost all Zimbabwean players I have asked have named as the cricketer they most admire. He is the role model for young players, and in Australia especially they will copy his actions. Yet he is completely unrepentant and neither his own Board nor the ICC and its officials seem to have the courage to insist that he and his team play according to the spirit of the game, which is now officially laid down as the preamble to the Laws of Cricket, 2000 Code. If you will excuse the generalization, you criticize an Australian at your peril.

This on-field boorishness is all part of the supposed macho image of modern players, I suppose. Paradoxically, most of the Australian players are said to be pleasant and well-spoken off the field, as the Zimbabweans have found. But on the field, such qualities as courtesy, chivalry and self-control seem to have no place. It is not only in Australia, either; Zimbabweans have found New Zealanders far worse. Is this the image of the game the players want presented? May Zimbabwe never fall into this cesspit. Let us see the ICC showing its teeth on this matter.

THIS ISSUE

This issue has a great deal of statistics included following the tour of New Zealand. Overall Test and one-day international records have been updated, as have records for Test and one-day international matches between Zimbabwe and New Zealand.

We include reports on the tours by Zimbabwean Under-14 and Under-16 teams, and are waiting on Win Justin-Smith, manager of the Under-19 team, for his report. There were some encouraging performances but there is obviously still a weakness in our school system, and likely to remain one for some time, when we often struggle to match South African provincial sides. It makes it all the more remarkable that we are able to produce a competitive national side and even on occasions beat the full South African team.

We also include itineraries for the tours of Bangladesh and India to Zimbabwe later this year, which will be followed by the West Indies. There is still plenty to come in our eleven-month season.

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