Zimbabwe cricket

A brief history of Zimbabwe cricket

John Ward

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Logan Cup records

It is believed that the first cricket match staged in what was then known as Rhodesia took place on August 16, 1890 near Fort Victoria (now Masvingo). By the mid 1890s the principal match of the season was Salisbury (now Harare) v Bulawayo.

In 1898-99 Lord Hawke's team came to play two matches in Bulawayo, this being the first visit by an English cricket team to Rhodesia. In the first years of the twentieth century, JD Logan presented a cup for competition amongst the towns in Rhodesia, and in 1904-05 Rhodesia sent a team to Johannesburg to oppose Transvaal in the Currie Cup Competition. After a long and harrowing journey by the Rhodesians, Transvaal won by an innings and 170 runs.

The first MCC touring side travelled to South Africa in 1905-06, but did not play in Rhodesia; similarly the second MCC team of 1909-10 failed to make a visit, but at the end of that tour the captain Leveson-Gower persuaded three of his MCC touring colleagues, together with seven South African players, to journey to Rhodesia and play games at Bulawayo, Gwelo (now Gweru) and Salisbury. After being defeated at Bulawayo in the first game, the Rhodesians gave a much better account of themselves in the match at Salisbury.

Between the two World Wars the standard of cricket in Rhodesia continued to rise and the country took part in a number of Currie Cup tournaments, as well as having regular visits from touring sides. Rhodesia might well have won the Currie Cup tournament of 1931-32, held in the Johannesburg area. In five matches they won four outright victories against a defeat by Transvaal, but the seemingly inexplicable system which awarded the same number of points for a first-innings lead in a drawn match as for an outright victory gave the tournament to Western Province.

Unfortunately this was Rhodesia's last appearance in the Currie Cup until after World War II; the long distances involved and the reluctance of most South African teams to travel north across the Limpopo made participation difficult, apart from those years when the tournament was held in one centre. Despite the scarcity of first-class cricket, though, the country did produce its first Test player, when leg-spinning all-rounder Denis Tomlinson was selected for the South African tour to England in 1935.

After 1946 Rhodesia participated regularly in the Currie Cup, playing most of their matches away from home to start with until the South African provinces gradually became more willing to travel north. During the fifties and sixties, with the Currie Cup now split into two sections, Rhodesia were forever it seemed in limbo between the two. A cycle began in which they would overwhelm B Section opposition and gain promotion to the A Section, only to find themselves outclassed at that level - lack of self-confidence being an explanation rather than lack of talent - and being demoted again to the B Section.

>From 1953-54 to 1963-64 Rhodesia were captained by David Lewis, who won a Blue at Oxford University and is still acclaimed by many as the best captain Rhodesia ever had. In his team he had several outstanding players who also played Test cricket for South Africa: Percy Mansell, Godfrey Lawrence, Joe Partridge and the Pithey brothers, Tony and David.

The player who really brought Rhodesian cricket to world attention, though, was the legendary Colin Bland. He is remembered not so much as a batsman good enough to average 49 in Test cricket for South Africa, but more as an outfielder who lifted the art of fielding to heights never before attained, or possibly even imagined. Since then, superb fielding has become a national tradition and teams from this country have rarely failed to live up to his legacy.

The early 70s saw the emergence of what many still regard as the country's strongest ever team. It was captained by the great South African all-rounder Mike Procter and contained such fine players as Jackie du Preez, John Traicos, Duncan Fletcher, Brian Davison, Peter Carlstein, Paddy Clift, Howie Gardiner, Richie Kaschula and Surrey and England pace bowler Robin Jackman. Those years, though, are more frequently remembered as an era of frustration, as it coincided with South Africa's years of greatest strength and Rhodesia were never quite able to win the coveted Currie Cup.

They came closest in 1972-73, when the infamous 'Wilmot walk-off' match took place (see 1972-73 season) and the decision of the umpires to award the match to Rhodesia was arbitrarily overturned by the South African Cricket Union. Yet two matches were lost that season due to disastrous batting collapses from a position of strength, and this tendency also let down the team in other seasons during the seventies. It was a team with outstanding potential, on paper probably the strongest team in the world outside Test cricket at that time, but, with the civil war years looming, it never quite realised its potential. True international cricket during those years was impossible after Rhodesia's UDI in 1965 and the subsequent imposition of sanctions on the country; gradually South Africa too was being isolated.

Independence and the subsequent reacceptance of the country by the rest of the world in 1980 began a new era in Zimbabwean cricket. On July 21, 1981 Zimbabwe was elected an associate member of the ICC. In 1983 they participated in the World Cup for the first time, and in their first match astounded the cricket world with a handsome victory over Australia. However the emigration of many whites, the unavoidably long time necessary to develop black talent and the defection to England of Graeme Hick, indisputably the most talented batsman ever produced by this country, led to a decline in strength and, at times, of morale.

Between 1983 and 1992 Zimbabwe played in three World Cup competitions, but were forced to qualify for each in an ICC Trophy competition among the associate members. Zimbabwe duly won all three, and in fact won every completed match they played each time. Andy Pycroft and Dave Houghton were the mainstays of the batting, while Peter Rawson was a bowler of true international class. The evergreen off-spinner John Traicos played long enough and well enough not only throughout the eighties, but in fact to play Test cricket for South Africa in 1970 before its isolation and for Zimbabwe in the nineties.

For years ZCU presidents Alwyn Pichanick and Dave Ellman-Brown lobbied the Test-playing nations on Zimbabwe's behalf, knowing that the game would stagnate without the stimulus of true international competition. Their work finally bore fruit, and not a season too soon, as Zimbabwe were finally elevated to Test status in 1992.

On 18 October 1992 India came to Harare to play Zimbabwe in the first Test involving the home country. Again Zimbabwe performed beyond all expectations, running up a total of 456 and coming close to forcing India to follow-on. In the end they had to settle for a draw, but they were the first new member of the Test-playing community ever to avoid defeat in its inaugural Test match.

Zimbabwe's first Test victory came in its 11th match, in 1994-95, when Pakistan were roundly defeated at Harare Sports Club by an innings and 64 runs. The next was longer in coming: after several near misses, they finally beat India in a closely fought match, also in Harare, in 1998-99. This was followed immediately by another, against Pakistan in Peshawar; Pakistan failed to level the score and so Zimbabwe had won a Test series for the first time, and that away from home.

In one-day internationals Zimbabwe also took a long time to find their confidence and master the techniques of winning, although occasional victories showed what could be achieved. This was most notable against England, the one country which had failed to support Zimbabwe's bid for Test status. When that country somewhat belatedly toured Zimbabwe for the first time, the home side overwhelmed (or 'murdered', to use a word made popular by the visiting coach David Lloyd) the Englishmen 3-0 in the one-day series. In six one-day internationals played between the two countries to date, Zimbabwe have won five and lost only one.

Again a major breakthrough was achieved in 1998-99 when Zimbabwe reached the final of a one-day competition for the first time. This took place in Sharjah as a result of two victories in the group matches over the reigning World Cup champions Sri Lanka and one over India, who defeated Zimbabwe in the final with the help of a century by Sachin Tendulkar.

Within a year of their first Test match, the Zimbabwean team consisted almost entirely of promising youngsters built around Dave Houghton, now in his late thirties, and pace bowler Eddo Brandes, when fit. The Flower brothers, Andy and Grant, soon emerged as world-class batsmen, and Heath Streak as a fast-medium bowler at one time ranked as fourth in the world. Zimbabwe's first black Test player, Henry Olonga, made his debut in Zimbabwe's first Test victory and played a crucial role in both of the next two.

At a domestic level, inter-provincial cricket has been played for the Logan Cup since 1903-04, but it is only since Zimbabwe attained Test status that it has been possible to organise it as a first-class competition. Since the late sixties Mashonaland - basically Harare - has had at times almost a monopoly of the top players, making true inter-provincial competition difficult.

But the increasing political unrest inside Zimbabwe spilt over into the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, which had been a genuinely professional organisation after the granting of Test status, with Don Arnott as the first chief executive until his retirement in 1998. He was succeeded by Dave Ellman-Brown, who brought a new dynamic approach to cricket administration in the country, but a combination of rampant inflation, an exodus of many of the cricketing fraternity and growing politicisation resulted in a marked decline in standards and development.

The 2003 World Cup, which should have given Zimbabwe a platform to show itself off, degenerated into a farce as England refused to tour and Andy Flower and Henry Olonga staged their famous "black armband" protest. Both quickly slipped into exile, joining a number of current and former players.

In April 2004, the sacking of Heath Streak as captain triggered a six-month crisis which threatened the future of the game and led to calls for Zimbabwe to be stripped of their Test status. Although an uneast truce followed, the side was left woefully weak, and Test and ODI defeats by Bangladesh confirmed that Zimbabwe were bottom of the pile. A self-imposed one-year suspension from Test cricket followed, but when Zimbabwe came back they were, if anything, even weaker and chaos at home continued.

The 2005-06 Logan Cup never took place after a disastrous Faithwear Trophy when sides were so feeble as to be embarrassing. ZC revamped the system, removed Mashonaland and Matabeleland (two of the leading opponents of the Chingoka regime) and unveilled a new competition for 2006-07.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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