Zimbabwe in fine form
ZIMBABWE has at last shown its true potential, judging by the way they overwhelmed their one time nemesis, the West Indies, in three consecutive matches, on their way to yesterday's NatWest triangular series final at Lords.
Before the triangular series which pitted them against hosts, England, and the West Indies, Zimbabwe had not beaten the Windies in either form of cricket.
In fact, prior to the England tour, Zimbabwe had suffered some disheartening defeats on their way to losing all the Test and limited overs matches to the `Calypso Kings', on what was their inaugural tour of the Caribbean.
So, it was against this background and on the grand stage, that Andy Flower and his side registered their first victory over the struggling Windies. The final against England, was only Zimbabwe's second, in a major limited overs series against fellow Test nations.
The first, was a final appearance at the Sharjah Cup in Dubai, which Zimbabwe comprehensively lost to India.
The only blemish on Zimbabwe's path to the final, were the two defeats at the hands of England--the second coming after the two adversaries were assured of playing in the final.
It is, however, regrettable that some of the players who have starred in these four victories have announced that they are leaving the national cricket team to pursue their careers as professional cricketers, elsewhere.
Murray Goodwin, who has displayed superb form throughout the England tour and even scored centuries in both the Test and one day series, announced a few weeks ago that he will be returning to cricket playing in Western Australia.
Goodwin, who is married to an Australian, played in the Sheffield Shield for Western Australia, before returning to Zimbabwe, two years ago, to pursue Test cricket.
Goodwin's good form came at a time when Zimbabwe had lost a slew of matches, leading to firmly anchored at the bottom of the unofficial world cricket standings.
Neil Johnson has also decided to return to professional cricket, at either one of his old sides, the English county side, Leicestershire, or KwaZulu/Natal in South Africa. Johnson, who quickly rose to prominence soon after coming back to play for Zimbabwe and featured at the 1999 World Cup, has at times looked like the kind of all rounder, in the mould of Lance Klusener or Shaun Pollock, that Zimbabwe had always lacked.
His consistently good spells with the bat, accompanied by a good wicket taking average propelled Zimbabwe to yesterday's final.
In one of the triumphs over the Windies, Johnson hit 95 as he led Zimbabwe to a convincing six wicket win.
It has also been pleasing to note that former captain, Alistair Campbell, has regained the form which most thought had deserted him--in the most convincing fashion.
Campbell, whose prolonged slump in form had resulted in concerted calls for him to either step down or be fired, repaid the national selectors' faith in him with a magnificent score of 77 in the opening match against the West Indies. He followed that up with 80, in the remarkable five wicket win over England.
In that victory, Zimbabwe produced a fantastic recovery in fighting back from the brink of defeat, with skipper, Flower coming in with a masterly 61.
In the 70-run victory over the Windies, Zimbabwe had all-rounder, Guy Whittall, chipping in with the match winning score of 83, which saw him clinch the man of the match award.
Also encouraging has been the return to the national side of spinner, Paul Strang, who had been out of the side since the World Cup, due to a recurring wrist injury.
Strang quickly got into the thick of things, claiming three wickets in one match and filling the void in the absence of some of the key bowlers due to injury, as did Heath Streak and Henry Olonga.
All this serves as a reminder to the Zimbabwean players ahead of their hosting of New Zealand, later this year, that they can play with the best and can show their true potential.
After their prolonged form slump and the embarrassing defeats they suffered in Test and one day series, the Zimbabwean players will be hoping that their new found confidence continues and is not derailed by the early retirement from the national team of Johnson and Goodwin.
The final word goes to the Movement of Democratic Change president, Morgan Tsvangirai, who acknowledged Zimbabwe's achievements at the tournament. In a press statement, Tsvangirai congratulated the cricket team for reaching the final of the NatWest triangular series.
"This success brings some sense of normality to Zimbabweans at home, which is very important in these turbulent times.
"I salute their dedication and commitment, which reflects on our culture, here at home," said Tsvangirai.