From competitors to minnows
Zimbabwe's best is behind them
Zimbabwe, who last figured in a Test nearly six years back in September 2005, will be more than glad to get back to regular participation in Tests. However, the loss of several key players during their years in exile has significantly affected their chances of staying competitive. The drastic decline in form was clearly reflected in their last ten Tests before the ban as Zimbabwe lost seven times by an innings and once by ten wickets. Between December 2001 and 2005, they won just one and lost 21 matches including 13 by an innings. The results were in sharp contrast to their performances in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The period between October 1998 and November 2001 can perhaps be considered Zimbabwe's golden period in Tests. They won six Tests in this period including two wins over India and a triumph against Pakistan in Peshawar.
Following their impressive Test debut against India in 1992, ZImbabwe went into a form slump losing four of their next five Tests. However, they salvaged some pride by drawing the final Test in Pakistan and the three home Tests against Sri Lanka. Grant Flower's double century and Heath Streak's nine-wicket haul stunned Pakistan by an innings and 64 runs in Harare in January 1995. Zimbabwe, however, went on to lose the series 2-1. Between 1995 and September 1998, they did not manage any more wins but achieved some highly creditable draws including the Bulawayo Test against England in 1996 which ended with the scores level. Zimbabwe proved to be a strong side in home conditions as they registered consecutive Test wins over Pakistan and India in 1998. After three crushing defeats against Australia and South Africa, they squandered a wonderful opportunity to win a Test in the West Indies when they were bowled out for just 63 chasing a target of 99. Between April and June 2001, Zimbabwe won three out of four Tests including a four-wicket win over India at Harare to square the series 1-1. However, Zimbabwe's successful run came to an end soon as the premature retirements of Andy Flower, Alistair Campbell and Henry Olonga left them with a highly-depleted squad.
|1995 - September 1998||20||1||11||8||0.09|
|October 1998 - November 2001||28||6||13||9||0.46|
|December 2001 onwards||25||1||21||3||0.04|
Improvement followed by decline
Through their 15 years in Tests, Zimbabwe regularly proved to be a challenging opponent in home conditions. In their debut Test in Harare, Dave Houghton's century set up a score of 456 and only Sanjay Manjrekar's patient century helped India get away with a draw. Zimbabwe were not really up for away contests though and were exposed thoroughly on their first tours of India and Pakistan. The high average difference in the period between 1992-1994 clearly indicates ZImbabwe's struggles on both the batting and bowling fronts in away Tests. In the subsequent period (1995 - September 1998), Zimbabwe were far more competitive at home than before. Their average difference of -0.11 is their lowest across all phases. Their away record showed no improvement in this period and batsmen failed to create any impact scoring only four centuries in ten away matches. In the period between October 1998 and November 2001, Zimbabwe won six Tests including two away from home. One of the biggest reasons the average difference dropped to -4.67 in away Tests was the fact that their batsmen scored 11 centuries in the period. Both the home and away performances fell way rapidly after 2001 and the poor average differences at home (-15.71) and away (-30.79) are significant reflectors of their woes in last few years before their exile. In the same period, apart from a solitary win over Bangladesh in 2004, Zimbabwe tasted no success and lost 12 of their 13 away Tests.
|Period||Venue||win/loss/draw||Batting average||Bowling average||Average difference||100/50||5WI/10WM|
|1995- September 1998||home||1/4/5||30.23||30.34||-0.11||10/16||6/1|
|1995- September 1998||away||0/7/3||24.07||42.18||-18.11||4/24||2/0|
|October 1998 - November 2001||home||4/8/4||27.83||38.37||-10.54||7/40||6/1|
|October 1998 - November 2001||away||2/5/5||30.62||35.29||-4.67||11/20||3/0|
|December 2001 onwards||home||1/9/2||24.43||40.14||-15.71||3/30||5/1|
|December 2001 onwards||away||0/12/1||22.06||52.85||-30.79||2/28||4/0|
Andy Flower's brilliant run
Andy Flower, who scored 12 centuries and 27 fifties in his career, finished with an average of 51.54 from 63 Tests. Among wicketkeepers who scored over 3000 runs, Flower had the best average of 53.70. He had an oustanding run of form between October 1998 and November 2001 which coincided with Zimbabwe's most successful Test phase. Flower amassed 2530 runs with seven centuries at an average of 76.66 in this period. While his brother Grant Flower was not all that successful, Murray Goodwin and Guy Whittall were among the consistent performers for Zimbabwe during that period. Andy Flower did even better in away Tests averaging 88.61 in 12 Tests with four centuries. His run tally in away Tests was nearly 23% of Zimbabwe's total aggregate in the period. He scored 540 runs in four innings at an average of 270 in India in 2000-01 confirming that he was Zimbabwe's finest player of spin. Flower, who scored nearly 900 runs at an average of 97.66 in the 2000-01 season, made 142 and 199 in a nine-wicket defeat to South Africa in Harare in September 2001. His match aggregate of 341 runs in a Test defeat is second only to Brian Lara's 351 against Sri Lanka in Colombo in 2001.
Taibu's experience crucial
Following the retirements of several top players, Zimbabwe have found it extremely hard to compete with bat and ball. Tatenda Taibu has been their best batsman since December 2001. While Hamilton Masakadza and Brendon Taylor have performed fairly well in ODIs, it remains to be seen if they can extrend the consistency to Tests. A huge gulf in class exists between the likes of the Flower brothers and the batsmen in the present squad and the inexperienced players in Zimbabwe will do well to derive inspiration from their team's excellent display in the 1998-2001 period.
Zimbabwe's spin-heavy attack
ZImbabwe fielded a pace-dominated bowling attack in their best years (1998-2001) with Streak and Henry Olonga being the most successful bowlers. Streak, Zimbabwe's highest wicket-taker, picked up 73 wickets at an average of 26.92 between October 1998 and November 2001, but lost his form after 2001 and averaged nearly 36.26 in his last 19 Tests. In the period after 2001, Ray Price has been the most successful bowler with 53 wickets at an average of 31.11. Although the fast-bowling front wears a weak look, the presence of Craig Ervine and Prosper Utseya in the squad further strengthens the spin department.
Zimbabwe, who go into the match as underdogs, can take heart from the fact that four of their eight Test wins have come against Bangladesh. They have also won five matches in Harare making it their most successful Test venue. Bangladesh, who have managed to win only two away Tests against a second-string West Indian team, have demonstrated significant improvement in recent years and the one-off Test provides the best chance for them to register their second away-series win.