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October 26, 2011
Malcolm Waller still isn't entirely sure how he managed to keep himself calm in the crucial final moments of Zimbabwe's record run-chase against New Zealand. The hosts needed one run off two deliveries, with a single wicket in hand, to successfully reached a target over 300 for the first time. Up stepped Waller with the innings of his life and he made sure he gave the No. 11, debutant Njabula Ncube, some simple advice. "No matter what happens, if I get bat on ball, let's take the run."
Waller was on 98 at the time having batted bravely and survived four chances, three of them catches and one run out, and had formed a match-changing partnership with Elton Chigumbura before marshalling the tail to take the game down to the final two deliveries. "I thought of swinging at the second last ball and trying to get it over the field but then I decided not to," Waller told ESPNcricinfo. "Somehow I managed to stay pretty calm."
His cool head and quick single ensured that Zimbabwe clinched a tense win and broke a losing streak that had lasted for 12 matches across three international series. It was a victory that went against mould in many ways; their first successful 300-plus pursuit with a batting line-up prone to collapse and on a ground that hasn't been kind to them of late.
Since their return to Test cricket in August and their ODI series win over Bangladesh, Zimbabwe have stuttered. They were outplayed by Pakistan and were dismal in the opening T20 and ODI against New Zealand. As they lurched from defeat to defeat, even the small victories - like losing by four wickets instead of nine - could not stop the cricketing world from starting to predict regression. When they conceded a massive 328 the bright days of beating Bangladesh were an increasingly distance memory and coach Alan Butcher may even have struggled to reason that victory was possible.
Waller said that despite their disappointment in the field the dressing room certainly didn't think it was beyond them, yet they spent the lunch break planning, not for a victory, but for the best way to do damage control. "It was a big task but we said to ourselves that we didn't have anything to lose," he said. "We knew that with a few good partnerships, we could get close."
That was what Zimbabwe aimed for - to lose with dignity.
When Vusi Sibanda was out for a duck, even that looked impossible. However, Brendan Taylor had other ideas. Twice he had scored a century in the series and ended up on the losing side. Again he batted with aggression playing glorious, technically sound strokes at rapid pace. The mood changed.
"He started the whole thing for us," Waller said. "It lifted most of us and we thought that if two or three batters can do what he did we will get close."
Still, it was only getting close to the line that was in their minds, not over it.
Taylor was dismissed for 75 and usually that would have signalled the end of Zimbabwe's fight, but this time Tatenda Taibu stepped up. With nifty footwork against spin and Hamilton Masakadza as his steely assistant, Taibu kept Zimbabwe alive. Still, when the pair was dismissed, with Forster Mutizwa's wicket sandwiched in between, it looked all over.
The two-big hitters, Waller and Chigumbura, had not done more than set off a few fireworks previously, but this time they lit up Zimbabwe's cricketing sky. "At the beginning we just wanted to take it slow and see how we go," Waller said. "We hadn't much opportunity to bat for long periods. It was really nice to bat with Elton, he took the pressure off. And when Elton started hitting it cleanly, I thought if we stick around until the last ten five overs, we might be in it."
The pair got the target down to a run-a-ball, before Chigumbura perished as he swung against Jacob Oram. Despite only having the tail to come, Waller didn't panic. "I knew we'd brought it close enough," he said.
Keegan Meth was next in and Waller hoped he would "score a quick 20" but Meth lasted only two balls and was dismissed when he charged down the track at Luke Woodcock. "He was trying to do the right thing," Waller said. With the last of the allrounders back in the hut, Waller thought the chase was off. After all, they had come close enough.
"With two guys on debut [Natsai Mushangwe and Njabula] left to bat, I thought the pressure might be a bit much." Any other day it might have, as Zimbabwe have showed with the bat before, but on Tuesday it wasn't. Ray Price hung around for long enough to level the scores and then Waller finished it off himself to write his name into Zimbabwe's cricket history.
"To win one game was great," he said. "We always knew the Bulawayo wicket was tough for bowlers, especially if teams have wickets in hand. It's hard to defend here.
And what about the century which eluded Waller? "At one stage, when we needed 25 to win and I needed 18 to get to the hundred, I thought I would end up ten short if another batsmen gets going," he said. "Then, at the end I thought about it but I decided to take the team home rather than get 100."
Waller's selflessness gave Zimbabwe a much-needed victory and he hopes it will open the door for a more regular place in the starting XI. "I want to perform more consistently," he said. "If I can do well in the bowling department as well it means we can have an extra bowler, too."
However, beyond Waller's skills it's his big-match temperament that turned around a Zimbabwe side. "New Zealand have played some really good cricket and guys were never too down," he said. "But now we have some extra confidence."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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