Zimbabwe v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Harare, 5th day September 14, 2013

Turmoil turns to rejoicing for emergent Zimbabwe

After financial trouble and player walkouts, Zimbabwe enjoyed a day filled with nothing but joy as they bested a top Test team for the first time since 2001

When Tendai Chatara hit Adnan Akmal on the knee roll to strike for Zimbabwe early on the final morning, he ran to fine leg to celebrate. Somewhat bewildered, his team-mates followed.

For each of the two wickets he claimed afterwards, they did the same thing. The area of the ground they enjoyed their successes in was not near the supporters' club stand or the main building. In fact, there were hardly any people there at all.

So, what was so special about it that the entire team congregated there as they approached victory, Brendan Taylor was asked after their thrilling 24-run win over Pakistan in the second Test. "I don't know, you'll have to ask Tendai," he said. Andy Waller concurred, adding that he too didn't know why the wicket-taking glee was on the opposite end of the ground from the change room. The question was asked and Chatara, a shy 22-year-old overawed by media attention, just laughed. "I also don't know," he said.

It turns out the place he ran towards on instinct is the direction of his hometown, Mutare. "The ghetto," he called it, when talking much more seriously about how a small-town man felt on making it on the international stage. "Coming from the ghetto to here... it just feels nice to contribute," he said.

A few years ago, the chances of Zimbabwe finding someone like Chatara would have been slim. He is not from one of the main cricket centres - Harare or Bulawayo - does not have the same advantage of going to a traditional cricket school and was considered a "raw talent" until very recently. That Zimbabwe Cricket unearthed and nurtured him and that he put in a match-defining performance, picking up his maiden five-wicket haul, is testament to how the game has changed and even progressed in the years since Zimbabwe last beat a top team.

Victory against an opposition other than Bangladesh last came 12 years ago, when Zimbabwe beat India at the same venue. The team that played then and the circumstances they played in are completely different to the one who took the field this time. In 2001, salaries were being paid, the game had yet to undergo the efforts to make it more accessible to the majority and the country was still relatively stable.

Fast-forward to the present and Zimbabwe and its cricket have been through significant change. Economic crisis and dollarisation has taken the economy from difficult times to a new kind of security, which has still left many ordinary people struggling to keep up with increased prices. The white-player walkout, transformation and a self-imposed exile from Test cricket left the game in tatters and triggered its slow and painful recovery.

Success on their Test comeback in 2011 after six years in exile was quickly overshadowed by five straight defeats in the longest format. The construction towards a competitive team seemed to have unraveled with crushing defeats at the World Twenty20 last year and the ODI series against India. The very fabric of the game itself seemed to have worn thin because of the financial difficulty Zimbabwe Cricket found itself in.

The first signs of money problems were brought to the world's attention through Tatenda Taibu on the Test comeback. The since-retired wicket-keeper said "nothing had changed" in terms of unkept promises. They mounted up more steadily recently.

Heath Streak was laid off as bowling coach ahead of the April series against Bangladesh because of a financial concern. And the players who were not centrally contracted wanted to strike because the winter contracts they were being offered were not considered adequate. ZC reached an agreement with everyone except Craig Ervine, who opted for club cricket in Ireland.

A few years ago, the chances of Zimbabwe finding someone like Chatara would have been slim. He is not from one of the main cricket centres - Harare or Bulawayo - and does not have the same advantage of going to a traditional cricket school. That Zimbabwe Cricket unearthed and nurtured him, and that he put in a match-defining performance, is testament to how the game has changed in the years since Zimbabwe last beat a top team

Matters ballooned before this series. Having not seen their July or August salaries, the players formed a union, for the first time in decade and threatened to boycott first the whole tour, then the third ODI, then the Tests, unless paid.

Each time, they extended their deadline and eventually ZC showed them the money, at the expense of some staff. Still, they lost Kyle Jarvis to premature retirement and Graeme Cremer and Sean Williams, who did not want to play unless paid. Williams has since committed to Zimbabwean cricket.

But if you were at Harare Sports Club (HSC) on Saturday afternoon and you did not know any of this, you could not have suspected it. What you would have seen were a triumphant group of players, tumbling over each other as though there was not a care in the world.

At the heart of that, you would have seen Chatara. The man with a five-wicket haul in his fourth Test, surrounded by team-mates, many of whom would not have had the opportunity to play for Zimbabwe before because underlying prejudices would have kept them out.

You would also have seen Taylor, the captain who a decade ago decided not to join his compatriots in a walk-out because he was "too young to understand or want to get involved in the politics," and because he wanted to play international cricket.

Taylor's desire to compete at the highest level is what has kept him in Zimbabwe despite offers from afar like one rumoured to have come from Hampshire. "This is the ultimate," he has said in previous interviews. This time, it really was.


Two of Zimbabwe's most loyal cricket supporters are a fifty-something year-old white man called Neil and a black man of about half his age, Eddie. Neil has been coming to matches at HSC for as long as many can remember. He does not miss a ball. Neither does Eddie, who travels from his home more than 200 kilometres away for matches in the capital. Often, especially early in the morning, they are the only two supporters in the ground.

The largely empty stands have led some to believe cricket is not a popular or marketable game in Zimbabwe. Others think the ticket prices are too steep but at US$2 all ZC can do is open the gates for free - which may not be the worst idea - if any reduction is sought. The truth is that just like elsewhere in the world, Test cricket attendances are dwindling because people have other commitments. That does not mean they aren't following in some way.

As the day grows longer and some of them have hours to spare, they start filtering in. One of the open stands is occupied by the supporters' club - a vociferous group who break out into popular songs, which those who know Zimbabwean cricket will recognise. Attention, accompanied by saluting to attention as a soldier does, is one of them. One more, one more chanted when someone is a run or wicket away from a milestone, is another.

One more made only a brief appearance in this match, after Zimbabwe took the ninth wicket and before the last man was run out. When that happened, there was only joy. The players' huddle, Shingi Masakadza charging down the stairs with the Zimbabwean flag in hand and groups of people who were in the ground celebrating would be some of the lasting image of this win.

Afterwards, Eddie waited for the post-match press conferences to end so he could congratulate his team. Neil seemed to have already left. No doubt he would have been overjoyed. He had said, on all the previous days that he wanted nothing more than a Zimbabwean win, especially because he had persisted in coming to support them through everything.

The team did a quiet victory lap of the ground, waving and taking photographs with those who remained. They began with the groundstaff, who the umpires had applauded for getting the pitch Test quality in just two and a half days and who often go unnoticed and underpaid despite the hours they put in.

In Zimbabwe, cricket is small enough to be about the people who may not command any attention at all in other places. Those who rolled the pitch and cut the grass were among the first to be thanked and to join in the festivities. A fines meeting, a party at the Centurion and all the usual revelries followed.

People will talk about this win for years to come. But one gets the sense that tomorrow life will go on. Zimbabwe's cricketers will put their feet up but could be back in training by Monday. What they will have to work towards is continuing playing a game that's getting better, more inclusive and more competitive with every passing series. And then one day, they may have even bigger things to celebrate.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • arun25 on September 15, 2013, 22:59 GMT

    Fans need more test cricket!! One of the best matches in recent time... Thanks PAK & ZIM for making it happen.

  • king78787 on September 15, 2013, 18:26 GMT

    This SHOULD turn heads and make people notice Zim. When was the last Aus vs Zim or Bang vs South Africa? The so called "minnows" only learn from massive thrashing against high quality opposition not tight fought matches that are low on quality but high on tension. Zim learnt from India, Pakistan during the ODI's and T20's and produced their best cricket since their readmission to beat Pakistan in a test.

    @PureProteas49 but who is going to restrict them to that? Steyn, Morkel, Philander will not be as effective on spinning wickets. 2 spinners are required and the Saffers have 0.5 (Peterson bats better than he bowls and Tahir is full toss after long hop)

  • woodgreen on September 15, 2013, 16:58 GMT

    Congrats to Zim.My favourite test result for a long time and im a big fan of Pakistan.But this is a victory for the long term.Now Zim needs to capitalise and get more tests against the big countries and that includes England

  • vparisa on September 15, 2013, 13:05 GMT

    Zimbabwe would have been the top side if not for the politics. They had a great team when Andy and Grant flower were part of the team. Now with Brendan Taylor who seems a great talent, Zimbabwe should look towards cricket for unity, joy and revolution. I hope Jarvis reconsiders his decision and comes back to play at least test cricket.

  • AKS286 on September 15, 2013, 12:58 GMT

    The whole World is happy with a fine win, rare but happy moment. A little squib but a massive encouragement for Zim cricket, All cricket community and fans are getting a reason to cheer. After the loss of Zimbabwe's quality bowler Jarvis Zim fought bravely and earned this victory. All the best Zimbabwe give us more reasons to cheer.

  • dummy4fb on September 15, 2013, 11:09 GMT

    Well done Zimbabwe. Look forward to more.

  • smjr on September 15, 2013, 10:18 GMT

    People are criticizing Pakistani team but they forget that in the earlier two losses suffered by Pakistan in test matches against Zimbabwe in home and away series the team is packed with star players like saeed anwar, Amir sohail, Inzamam, Wasim, waqar, Aqib, Muhammad Yousaf, Ijaz Ahmad, Shoaib Akhtar, Moin Khan, Mushtaq Ahmad, Salim Malik, Rashid latif. The test match played in Peshawar in 1998 and in Hararre in 1995. So what some one has to say about Misbah team.

  • dummy4fb on September 15, 2013, 9:31 GMT

    All cricketers of the world should take lessons from the Zimbabwe boys that Cricket should be played for the love of the game and for personal pride. Zimbabwe cricket board should also be grateful to their crickters for bringing honor and applause from the world for a poor country like theirs.

  • Kangroos.Proteas.Monkeys.Lions on September 15, 2013, 8:41 GMT

    And twelve years back they had a winning start to the series but could not mantain it as India came back from behind to win the second test and square the series. It can crunch of the contest in the tests if indian youngsters play their zim counterparts.