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The Zimbabweans opened their First Test tour of New Zealand on New Year's Day and departed a month later with honours fairly even. They shared the Test series, which was drawn 0-0, but had a chance of a win at Hamilton, thanks to an unusually sporting declaration from Lee Germon; though they lost the one-day games 2-1, they finished on a victorious note at Napier. The limited-overs series was one of New Zealand Cricket's better pieces of timing. They were the last one-day internationals played before the World Cup and gave both countries useful match preparation before their departure; New Zealand showed how useful by beating England in the Cup's opening game at Ahmedabad 11 days later. But, at the time, the Zimbabweans had more reason for satisfaction, despite the lack of wins; they had made the most of their limited resources.
They had one world-class performer with the bat and one with the ball. What a reputation and what figures Dave Houghton might have had by now, either if Zimbabwe had won Test status a dozen years earlier or if he had done a Hick and, as a youngster, sought his fortune in another country! His fourth Test century at Eden Park, where he broke his foot in the fifties, was marvellously brave and, given the circumstances, fluent. Unfortunately for Zimbabwe, the fracture kept him out of the World Cup. On the bowling side, Heath Streak had speed, stamina and strength but not much support. At the other end of the scale there were a few tourists who, on this showing, might have had their work cut out securing regular places in New Zealand's better provincial elevens. But Paul Strang was a courageous young leg-spinner possessing reasonable control and considerable ability to turn the ball. His figures were ravaged during Chris Cairns's blazing maiden Test century and did him little justice. Strang looked the likeliest slow bowler on either side, however, and at least as good a long-term bet as his left-arm trundler brother Bryan.
There had been Test wicket-keeper/captains before, as far back as Billy Murdoch at Sydney in February 1882, but never had two opposed each other until Andy Flower and Germon met at Hamilton in January 1996. Neither looked a top international keeper, which was understandable; it is hard to maintain the level of concentration needed to combine the job with on-field decision-making, especially for teams of limited resources. Flower had more batting to do in this series. He was punchy or cautious as the situation demanded, without having Houghton's masterful strokes. Zimbabwe's fielding reached its low point in New Zealand's second innings at Auckland, when Cairns and Adam Parore put on 166 in 171 balls, and its zenith at Napier, in the one-day win that was the tourists' chief success.
New Zealand had more talent available, but never fielded their best eleven. There were a few irritating injuries, and more zip in pitches might have helped, but the tameness of the bowling at Eden Park arose mainly from bad selection. Morrison, Doull, Thomson and Priest, who had repeatedly shown their wicket-taking ability, were all excluded.
The itinerary was not only short for the main attraction of the New Zealand summer but also regressive. New Zealand Cricket abandoned the Arundel-type festival opening match which Northern Districts had striven to establish and, having rekindled local interest in the warm-up games the previous year by reinstating matches against provincial opposition, went back to conglomerate teams, which attracted little support. The theory is that budding internationals will thrust forward by heroic deeds against overseas opposition. Allott and Kennedy were suddenly promoted after playing in these games, but neither was the right answer.
Zimbabwe's first Test tour of New Zealand - the only earlier visit was for the 1992 World Cup, with two Northern Districts games thrown in - was harmonious by 1990s standards. Denis Streak, Heath's father and a pace bowler who once played at Bulawayo army barracks against a sanctions-busting private New Zealand team, the Tuis, in 1974, renewed friendships and managed the side capably.
A. Flower (Mashonaland) (captain), D. L. Houghton (Mashonaland) (vice-captain), E. A. Brandes (Mashonaland Country Districts), A. D. R. Campbell (Mashonaland Country Districts), S. V. Carlisle (Mashonaland), S. G. Davies (Mashonaland), G. W. Flower (Young Mashonaland), A. C. I. Lock (Mashonaland Country Districts), H. K. Olonga (Matabeleland), S. G. Peall (Mashonaland Country Districts), H. H. Streak (Matabeleland), G. J. Whittall (Matabeleland), C. B. Wishart (Young Mashonaland).
C. N. Evans (Mashonaland Country Districts) joined the party after Houghton returned home injured.
Manager: D. H. Streak. Coach: J. H. Hampshire.
Test matches - Played 2: Drawn 2.
First-class matches - Played 4: Won 1, Drawn 3.
Win - New Zealand XI.
Draws - New Zealand (2), New Zealand Academy XI.
One-day internationals - Played 3: Won 1, Lost 2.
Other non-first-class matches - Won v Wanganui, Abandoned v. Central Districts.
Match reports for