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South Africa kicked off what should have been a momentous season with their third Test tour to their neighbours. Unlike in 1995-96 and 1999-2000, they played two Test matches, to constitute a series that would count towards the ICC Test Championship. The South Africans' bid to displace Australia at the top made a good start when they overwhelmed Zimbabwe, who did not do themselves justice - with one outstanding exception.
For them, the stupendous batting feats of Andy Flower overshadowed all else. He alone seemed able to shut out his country's political problems and their ongoing disputes with the Zimbabwe Cricket Union. Against stronger bowling and for a much weaker team, he outscored South Africa's Jacques Kallis by 422 to 388. Hamilton Masakadza confirmed the promise of his debut century against West Indies, and opener Dion Ebrahim twice reached 71. But few of the others demonstrated the fighting spirit that an even greener Zimbabwean team had shown during their early years of Test cricket.
South Africa's batting was far too powerful for a lightweight attack. In the First Test, Zimbabwe's specialist bowlers comprised Heath Streak, a shadow of the player he had been, and three youngsters who had taken 14 Test wickets between them. Gary Kirsten helped himself to his third Test double-century; Herschelle Gibbs showed consistency as well as flamboyance, with scores of 147, 74, 125, 69 and 39 in the two series, while Kallis proved immovable in the Tests. He batted for 1,028 minutes in all without being dismissed, breaking Nasser Hussain's record of 1,021. The only criticism was that he failed to accelerate at Bulawayo to press for victory, but that appeared to be team policy. Neil McKenzie played some good innings at No. 4 and Jonty Rhodes scored a brace of fifties when he arrived for the one-day series.
It was in bowling and strategy that the South Africans hinted they might fail to measure up to the Australians. Allan Donald was selected, but it was announced that he would miss the First Test because of flu; in the event, he never came at all, which was not satisfactorily explained. With Mfuneko Ngam and Nantie Hayward injured, the captain Shaun Pollock shared the new ball with the promising but raw Andre Nel. Makhaya Ntini did not find his best form but Claude Henderson successfully filled in for the injured Nicky Boje with his left-arm spin. Pollock himself lacked his usual accuracy, but so handsomely did his batsmen feast that the attack was rarely under pressure.
South Africa won the First Test easily, despite twin hundreds from Flower, but failed to press home their advantage in the Second, after a day was lost to rain. It was the first time Zimbabwe had avoided defeat in a Test against South Africa; Steve Waugh's Australians would surely not have missed that trick.
Match reports for
1st Test: Zimbabwe v South Africa at Harare, Sep 7-11, 2001
2nd Test: Zimbabwe v South Africa at Bulawayo, Sep 14-18, 2001
Tour Match: Zimbabwe A v South Africans at Bulawayo, Sep 21, 2001
1st ODI: Zimbabwe v South Africa at Bulawayo, Sep 23, 2001
2nd ODI: Zimbabwe v South Africa at Harare, Sep 29, 2001
3rd ODI: Zimbabwe v South Africa at Harare, Sep 30, 2001