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March 30, 2000
Another week, another Test match - and another heavy defeat by Zimbabwe. It was a familiar story, too, of competing very well up to a point but being unable to sustain the pressure.
Once again it was the eighth wicket that swung the match against Zimbabwe. That particular wicket time and again has proved to be Zimbabwe's nemesis, the point at which they lose their grip. Most notably we had Wasim Akram and Saqlain Mushtaq adding a world Test record 313 for it just over three years ago. Then this season we had Steve Waugh and Damien Fleming for Australia, and Mark Boucher and Shaun Pollock for South Africa recording century partnerships for the eighth wicket that took the match out of Zimbabwe's reach. Now we have Jimmy Adams and Franklyn Rose doing the same thing for the West Indies.
Then, of course, came another pathetic batting performance in the second innings. If Andy Flower fails, the whole team seems to collapse. The tragedy is that until that eighth-wicket stand, though, Zimbabwe were doing so very well. We have proved time and again that we have the ability to do well. We need to prove again that we have the ability to see the job through until the match is won. Our players need to bite the bullet and remember afresh that cricket is played primarily in the head. We will not win matches regularly until the heads are right, and they clearly are not at present.
One positive bonus from the match was the return to form of Murray Goodwin - century in the first innings before being run out, and only bowled by a magnificent ball in the second. He is a tough-minded player who has inexplicably been unable time and again to build on a good start for a whole year now. He has finally broken that barrier, and hopefully it will stay broken.
Other questions need to be asked about the batting. Grant Flower and Alistair Campbell are both class players, but can we afford to play them both when they are so badly out of form? And the question needs to be answered about Grant's opening partner. One cannot fathom the logic of using Neil Johnson to open in the First Test when Trevor Gripper was in the team, and yet it seems Gripper himself is not really ready for Test cricket. He hit a fine sixty against Australia, but has done nothing since. Gavin Rennie has proved the most reliable of Grant's partners over the years, but he was dropped after one unlucky match against Sri Lanka. Craig Wishart had a great match against India just over a year ago when Grant was injured, but has only been given one chance as opener since, on a bowler's pitch against Sri Lanka. But how can any opener settle down when he knows he is unlikely to get a good run in the team? Since the Harare Test against South Africa, Grant has gone in with, in turn, Gripper, Rennie, Gripper, Wishart, Johnson and Gripper again. A change every time.
On the domestic front, the Logan Cup goes into its final round this weekend with nobody certain and everybody in with a chance, except perhaps holders Matabeleland, of a place in the final beginning on 7 April. Manicaland hold pole position as the only team with two victories, but their programme is finished. Mashonaland, after some erratic performances, beat Matabeleland last weekend and will probably prove too strong for Midlands this time, although a surprise by the latter could win them a final berth. The CFX Academy may well make the final if they beat the youthful Matabeleland team.
This Logan Cup competition can already be classed as a resounding success. Many players are having their first real experience of three-day cricket and are thus on a steep upwards learning curve. The competition has been dominated by a few players who are clearly a class above the rest, and many players are not yet of first-class standard - some it must be stated never will be - but this is a start. Manicaland and Midlands have been introduced to first-class competition for the first time, and it is arousing great interest in both these areas.
Clearly it would be good for the second level of Zimbabwe cricket for the competition to remain as it is in future years, without the Test players, who come mainly from Mashonaland if they are batsmen and Matabeleland if they are bowlers. The way it was constituted seems to show that this was the original plan. But the problem remains: what about enough three-day match practice for the Test players? They were plunged into matches against the two strongest teams in the world this season without adequate first-class practice, and paid the penalty. They need to play themselves into form before a Test series, and did not have the opportunity to do so, as they were instead slogging it about in one-day tournaments in Singapore and Kenya. Some careful planning is necessary in future to ensure that they get the quality practice in the middle they need.