David (without slingshot) v Goliath
It was always going to be a David v Goliath contest, with David devoid of the necessary artillery. Australia have their strongest team of the last 50 years - if not of all time - while Zimbabwe are probably at their weakest in 50 years. Since 2000 they have prematurely lost more than 20 top players. The heaviest defeat in Zimbabwe's Test history was always a possibility, although thanks to a fighting last-wicket partnership that didn't quite happen, but few were so pessimistic as to expect an Australian total of over 700 and a world-record individual Test score to boot.
But did Zimbabwe lose with honour? Well, they did and they didn't. There was some fighting spirit at times from some players, but there were also times when they looked to be caving in under the pressure. Worst of all was the pre-lunch session on the fourth day, when Australia were missing two top bowlers, but Zimbabwe still managed to throw away five wickets with some very feeble batting.
If Zimbabwe had a Man of the Match, it was the 20-year-old allrounder Sean Ervine. Ervine, like many of his team-mates, was thrown into international cricket before he was ready for it, two seasons ago before his 19th birthday. He had been followed avidly from his early years for his allround promise, and has the unusual distinction of captaining the CFX Academy team on his first-class debut.
Some felt Ervine was neglecting his bowling at the expense of his batting, but recently he has been putting that right. With Heath Streak ineffective, Ervine was by some way the best of Zimbabwe's bowlers at Perth, and was rewarded with four wickets for his skill, accuracy and variation. Then in the second innings he showed good discrimination and powerful strokes against the bad ball to record his maiden Test fifty.
Streak, on the other hand, had a disastrous match until he produced some defiance late in the second innings. He started by putting in Australia in superb batting conditions, a decision that flummoxed the Aussie commentators. It was stranger than ever when you consider that he had the advice of his team coach, Geoff Marsh, and bowling coach Bruce Reid, who both played all their home matches at the WACA. Yet his decision to field never looked likely to work out, and Zimbabwe were to pay a very heavy price for this misguided act.
Streak's bowling was also badly out of touch, a disaster for a team who have only him to rely on to hold together their attack, if it can be called that. If Ervine had not stepped into the breach, who knows what total the Australians would have put together? But it was not Zimbabwe's worst bowling performance in recent years. At least they kept a reasonable line, which has not always been the case, however bland their deliveries.
Several Australian commentators praised some of the Zimbabweans specifically for their ability, and wondered why they failed to convert their useful scores into substantial ones more often. Mark Taylor suggested lack of confidence, and that is very true. Zimbabwean children do not grow up with the same aggressive confidence of Australian children; they are aware that Zimbabwe is a small nation when they play for their country, and they do not have the confidence their ability deserves. It is also true that they do not have enough experience in building long innings, as they have a much more limited first-class programme, although the situation there is improving.
Some Zimbabweans were outraged at the suggestion by some Australian players that their batting would probably be weaker than that of Bangladesh, who Australia played in July. Yet they need to take that criticism seriously. Bangladesh have improved remarkably since Dav Whatmore took over as their coach, and they will be looking for the kill when they tour Zimbabwe next February. Zimbabwe need to take that series very seriously: defeat at home would ensure that they were firmly on the bottom of the Test pile.
Now to Sydney on Friday, and the same end result as certain as anything can be in cricket, barring considerable assistance from the weather. For Zimbabwe it will be a test of their resilience (something they have been noted for in the past) and a searching examination of what they have learned over the last few days.