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Zimbabwe started 1998 with tours of Sri Lanka and New Zealand, playing two Tests against each. It was a disheartening experience: they lost all four Tests, and all but one of the eight accompanying internationals. In fact, Zimbabwe produced some encouraging performances in Sri Lanka, and were convinced they would have won the Second Test but for a string of decisions which went against them. This setback affected their morale, and they lost the ensuring New Zealand Tests by wide margins.
Zimbabwe's mini-Test series in Sri Lanka was their second on the island in 16 months. Although it produced the same result - 2-0 in favour of Sri Lanka- this series was much more closely contested. Whereas both Tests played in September 1996 ended inside four days, Zimbabwe forced these two into a fifth. Their fighting qualities showed as they tackled Sri Lanka's spin kingpin Muttiah Muralitharan in helpful conditions. Zimbabwe were especially unlucky in the Second Test, when they came quite close to achieving their first win overseas. They were the more aggrieved because the umpires had turned down numerous appeals for lbw and for catches at the wicket during the crucial stages of Sri Lanka's run-chase. Coach David Houghton's comments on the umpiring earned him a fine and a two-match suspension.
A double-century by Marvan Atapattu at Kandy and an unbeaten 143 from Aravinda de Silva at Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo turned out to be the decisive innings for Sri Lanka. Meanwhile off-spinner Muralitharan, with 17 wickets at 15.41, remained Zimbabwe's nemesis - he routed them in the previous series with 14.
The emergence of Murray Goodwin as a solid front-line batsman was one of the plus points for Zimbabwe. Goodwin, who had returned to his native county after playing a couple of seasons for Western Australia, walked straight into the team and scored seventies in both Tests. He took the place of Houghton, who had retired from international cricket to concentrate on coaching the side. Vice-captain Andy Flower confirmed his status as a serious international batsman by scoring the only century for his country in the series.
The ease with which the Sri Lankan batsmen tackled the Zimbabwean spinners put captain Alistair Campbell in a spot. He was forced to fall back on rugged fast bowler Heath Streak for wickets. Streak did hot fail him, and gave Zimbabwe an outside chance of victory when he snapped up four cheap wickets in the second innings of the Colombo Test.
While Zimbabwe showed a marked improvement in the longer game, they were completely outplayed by world champions Sri Lanka in one-day cricket, and were whitewashed 3-0. It was the first time in their history that Sri Lanka had made a clean sweep of both Test and one-day series, apart from 1992-93, when they won a one-off Test and two limited-overs games against England. - S.T.
Zimbabwe arrived in New Zealand to contest what was arguably a battle between Test cricket's two weakest nations: frequent reminders of their humble status - at the foot of the Wisden World Championship - had begun to rankle with New Zealand. Having beaten Sri Lanka 2-0 a year before, they felt that, in these two Tests against Zimbabwe, they could show the world that they deserved a higher rating. They duly won the First Test by ten wickets in four days and the Second by an innings in three.
Though the Sri Lankan team they beat in 1996-97 was under-prepared, and the Zimbabweans were below strength, an analysis of Stephen Fleming's first year as captain made encouraging reading for New Zealand. They played nine Tests, won four (all at home), drew three and lost two (both to Australia).
Zimbabwe arrived knowing that their batting line-up was shaky and that they would rely heavily on the seam bowling of Heath Streak and the leg-spin of Paul Strang and Adam Huckle. But Streak was unable to shake off a nagging leg injury and the new-ball attack lacked penetration. In the one-day series, Zimbabwe did better than the margin of 4-1 might suggest, but, in the Tests, the bowlers failed to make a competition of it. To compound matters, Campbell won two important tosses only to make dubious decisions.
There was plenty to encourage the New Zealand team, with several younger players developing well during the series. Matthew Horne followed up his maiden Test hundred in Australia with 44 at Wellington and 157 at Auckland. Craig McMillan, too, built on the promising form he had shown on the Australian tour by scoring his first Test century, full of dazzling strokes, at Basin Reserve. Senior players also regained their touch: Nathan Astle hit an elegant hundred at Eden Park, Simon Doull was clearly back to Test form and Chris Cairns shrugged off his injured ankle. Adam Parore kept wicket tidily and contributed usefully with the bat, while Dion Nash found some of the aggression he had displayed before his back injury, sustained in 1996.
For Zimbabwe, matters were distinctly less encouraging. They had neither the incisive bowling nor the consistent batting demanded by Test cricket. - D.C.
A. D. R. Campbell ( Mashonaland) (captain), A. Flower ( Mashonaland) (vice-captain), G. W. Flower ( Mashonaland), M. W. Goodwin ( Mashonaland), A. G. Huckle ( Matabeleland), E. Matambanadzo ( Mashonaland), M. Mbangwa ( Matabeleland), H. K. Olonga ( Matabeleland), G. J. Rennie ( Mashonaland), J. A. Rennie ( Matabeleland), P. A. Strang ( Mashonaland), B. C. Strang ( Mashonaland), H. H. Streak ( Matabeleland), A. R. Whittall ( Matabeleland), G. J. Whittall ( Matabeleland), C. B. Wishart ( Mashonaland).
D. P. Viljoen (Mashonaland A) replaced the injured B. C. Strang.
Manager: A. J. Pycroft. Coach: D. L. Houghton.
Test matches- Played 4: Lost 4.
First-class matches- Played 7: Won 1, Lost 5, Drawn 1.
Losses- Sri Lanka (2), New Zealand (2), New Zealand A.
Draw- Board President's XI.
One-day internationals- Played 8: Won 1, Lost 7, Win- New Zealand. Losses- Sri Lanka (3) New Zealand (4).
Other non-first-class matches- Played 2: Won 1, Lost 1. Win- New Zealand Academy XI. Loss- Board President's XI.
Match reports for
2nd Test: New Zealand v Zimbabwe at Auckland, Feb 26-28, 1998
Match reports for