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September 12, 2007
Zimbabwe 139 for 5 (Taylor 60*, Clark 2-22) beat Australia 138 for 9 (Hodge 35*, Chigumbura 3-20) by five wickets
It was a night to remember for cricket fans everywhere except for Australia. Zimbabwe played out of their skins, Australia looked rusty, and, after the drama of a rain delay with Australia ahead on Duckworth-Lewis, Zimbabwe, who had been wobbling when the rain hit, edged to a memorable, wonderful five-wicket win off the penultimate delivery. Two years ago to the day Australia lost the Ashes at The Oval. This game might have lacked the importance of that one, but it was a damn sight more embarrassing for them.
And lest anyone think this was a fluke, it was not. For almost the entire game Zimbabwe were, almost unbelievably, on top. Written off by everyone other than the ICC president, Ray Mali - the bookmakers had Australia at 50-1 on - they bowled sensibly, fielded like demons and, initially, batted with wisdom. A newcomer to Newlands might be thinking that they were the world champions and the side in the skin-tight yellow and grey lycra were the no-hopers.
The hero of the chase was Brendan Taylor, a fiery character whose international career seemed to be over a month ago after the latest of many run-ins with the Zimbabwe board. He anchored Zimbabwe's response with an unbeaten 60 off 45 balls, ran singles with ease and - as Australia began to tighten their grip - thumped two sixes off the 15th over from Brad Hodge to give his side renewed belief.
And yet still Australia had their noses in front. Zimbabwe needed 12 off the last over. Taylor flicked the first ball for four past the grope of short fine leg. It came down to four off two as Ricky Ponting - who has said this format is not one he takes seriously but admitted afterwards "we've just got to start respecting the game now" - looked as stressed as anyone as he frantically marshalled his field. Nathan Bracken, so reliable, bowled full on leg stump, it brushed Taylor's pad and bobbled agonisingly slowly towards fine leg where it just had the legs to beat Stuart Clark's despairing slide. The Zimbabwe players were racing on to the pitch even before the ball hit the boundary markers.
What was remarkable was that it was Australia who crumbled under pressure. Their batting, with the exception of Hodge, lacked fluency; their bowlers were too wayward; their fielders fumbled and gave away overthrows. Zimbabwe, on the other hand, threw themselves wholeheartedly into everything.
Even though Australia's total was poor by Twenty20 standards, few expected them to lose. But they had omitted Brad Hogg and opted for a seam-heavy attack. On a suet of a pitch their pace was nullified and simply allowed the batsmen to use the speed of the ball to good effect. Zimbabwe's dobblers and gentle spinners were far more effective.
Australia, who have been out of action as a collective unit since the World Cup final on April 28, looked out of sorts, and their strokeplay was not helped by a moving ball, a stodgy pitch and a pudding of an outfield. The dismissals of Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist, both to Elton Chigumbura, appeared to be a minor setback, but when Ponting thick-edged a heave high to third man off Gary Brent, the situation became altogether more serious.
Such is the strength in depth of the Australians, however, they had more hitters to come, and Andrew Symonds and Michael Hussey consolidated for a couple of overs and then cut loose, using their feet and scampering between the wickets.
Hodge, whose summer with Lancashire meant that his timing was never in doubt, batted with the kind of ease we expected from his team-mates. Lee offered some support, clouting a big six, before falling to Brent, the old man of the Zimbabwe side, who bowled cannily throughout. Still Australia, who mustered 139 for 9, were the favourites. Sibanda and Taylor got Zimbabwe off to a good start, Sibanda thumping five rasping fours as Taylor skillfully gave him the strike. As they reduced the target to double figures with 15 overs left, the first sign of Australian jitters became evident.
The weather added to the drama as a light drizzle started and everyone, including Ponting - consulting a tatty and increasingly soggy crib sheet - rushed to work out the Duckworth-Lewis situation.
Zimbabwe had their noses in front until Tatenda Taibu feathered a catch to Adam Gilchrist. Over the next three overs the two sides swapped the D/L lead, with Zimbabwe level going into the 11th over only for Stuart Matsikenyeri's skied heave to Gilchrist to again put them behind. Within an over the players were off and Australia appeared to have got out of jail. But the rain gods were not on their side and after half-an-hour play resumed and the final, sensational, act was completed.
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?