South Africa in Zimbabwe 2014 August 6, 2014

African neighbours to end nine-year hiatus

Zimbabwe are going to play their first Test against South Africa in nine years, and the gulf between the sides is wider than it was in 2005
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"Shucks, I can't remember when the last time we played a Test against them was."

Hashim Amla's admission that his memory does not include a fixture in whites featuring Zimbabwe is not surprising. He has never played a match against them - a fact that reveals how much time has lapsed since the neighbours tussled on the Test stage.

Nine years. Long enough for some to forget, but not long enough for others.

"I remember it. I was part of the 54 all out," Zimbabwe batsman Hamilton Masakadza said, though the memory had no effect on his ever-present grin. "At the team meeting, I said to the guys, 'Kallis is struggling to find his inswinger, so look out for the one that goes the other way.' That's what Masakadza was watching for when he shouldered arms and was trapped in front by one that came in.

By then Zimbabwe were deep into their slide at 33 for 5. Only Stuart Matsikenyeri managed to get into double figures, Dion Ebrahim had become Makhaya Ntini's 200th Test victim and Brendan Taylor had given Mark Boucher his 300th Test dismissal. "I was so angry with myself, when I got back to the change room I hit myself on the head with my bat and I almost knocked myself out," Taylor said. "It was wide and I chased it."

Perhaps Masakadza and Taylor's recollection of that match and series, which Zimbabwe lost 2-0 in South Africa, is so vivid because a few months later both would have thought their Test career over. After innings defeats at Newlands and Centurion, Zimbabwe tumbled to four more losses - three by an innings, one by ten wickets - to New Zealand and India at home. Once their streak of shame reached six matches, Zimbabwe cricket's administrators saw no choice but to voluntarily suspend their own Test status to try to stop the bleeding.

While the Zimbabwean whites were yellowing from disuse, South Africa played 55 Tests, won their first series in England and Australia since readmission, and began to mount a successful challenge for the newly introduced trophy of Test cricket, the mace. All Zimbabwe did in that time was wait. And play one-day cricket. And lose. Most of the time.

Occasionally Zimbabwe were invited to play in South Africa's domestic competitions but that did not provide them with the rung they needed to make the step up. To really improve they needed economic recovery, to build bridges with some of the men who cut themselves off before the decline, and competition against players who were closer to international level. Dollarisation, the return of Grant Flower, Heath Streak and others, and home series against the likes of New Zealand and Australia A are what eventually helped Zimbabwe back onto their feet, but they have legs that continue to shake.

Since their Test comeback in 2011, Zimbabwe have played just ten matches. In that period South Africa have played 28. Zimbabwe managed to win a one-off Test against Bangladesh in 2011; South Africa have only lost one series and achieved the No.1. Twice. The match-up between the sides could not be more lopsided.

All Zimbabwe can do is take inspiration from their underdog status to try and prove something. Luckily for them, they were able to get some game time against Afghanistan. Unluckily, most of the Test side did not play the two four-day games. Zimbabwe Cricket also announced major restructures less than two weeks before its team's biggest challenge this year - splitting the captaincy and moving the head coach sideways.

While Taylor will still lead in the Test, giving an air of stability, former coach Andy Waller will not be involved at all. Stephen Mangongo is now in charge of the national team. He was a sullen observer at the 25-man training squad's net session on Wednesday, rooted to the sidelines, arms folded and silent, while his men went through their paces.

They did not seem to be taking directions from anyone but everyone appeared to know what to do. Zimbabwe's cricketers have been through these routines so many times in the past - often even when they knew they had no opposition to play but had to remain match-fit - that they operate like clockwork. There isn't much talking. There is a lot of doing.

Much later in the afternoon South Africa turned up at Harare Sports Club for a first look at a ground most of them would never have played on. They would have learned that the pitch for the Test has not even been decided on. Or if it has, no one is saying.

The ground staff have been working on the square for the last month and two pitches have received their attention in preparation for their only Test of the season. Surface no. 2, further right from the clubhouse end, is brown. No. 4, more centrally located, is tinged with green. Those are the two strips in contention for the Test, but given South Africa's pace pack, No. 2 is likelier to get the nod. It will probably still have something for the quicks early on the first morning.

The truth is that conditions cannot nullify the advantage South Africa enjoy. Zimbabwe know that and are simply looking at the fixture as a way to show they can be competitive against the best. South Africa know it too but are trying to play it down.

"Because we are ranked above Zimbabwe, the natural expectation is for us to do better," Amla said. That is not the only reason South Africa are expected to win well inside five days, but with Tests between the nations being so scarce, this indulgence in the pretense of a contest is worth it.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rajesh_india_1990 on August 7, 2014, 14:26 GMT

    I m supporting Zimbabwe here...If Zimbabwe win means India will be the new number 1 test team...

  • on August 7, 2014, 13:33 GMT

    mine playing 11 would be mawoyo,raza,hamilton maasakadza,taylor,vermeulen, williams, chigumbura(allrounder),utseya/shingi,chatara,phanyangara.

  • ZCFOutkast on August 7, 2014, 13:10 GMT

    There is no error here gentlemen. Pakistan win and compettitive matches against PAK&NZ before that were not forgotten. Just left out. This is deliberately argued in this fashion to make ZIM appear worse than they are.

  • Nduru on August 7, 2014, 12:59 GMT

    @NixNixon. We are not ALL that naive. Of course, we hope they won't be completely slaughtered and one or two guys play reasonably well, but of course it will be a one-sided affair.

  • sussmith0589 on August 7, 2014, 12:47 GMT

    As much I support Zim, I will just be happy if they can take this match to Day 5. That will be a good enough achievement in itself.

  • TommytuckerSaffa on August 7, 2014, 12:25 GMT

    This will be a good opportunity to boost those Test averages. Hopefully SA bat first.

  • NixNixon on August 7, 2014, 11:01 GMT

    I know a lot of Zim fans would believe that they can put up some sort of show, but lets be realistic, SA is gonna play their best 11 and they are going to blow Zim out of the water. 3 days max. Good luck to both teams.

  • Nduru on August 7, 2014, 8:15 GMT

    Yeah, Firdose, I'm not sure why you haven't spoken about Zim's test comeback? Not only did they beat Bangladesh twice and Pakistan, but they played a wonderful test in which they almost beat New Zealand in Bulawayo - only reason they lost is because they went for the win rather than try for a draw on day 5. There were also flashes of brilliance in the previous test series against Pakistan - Tino Mawoyo's 164* against Said Ajmal and co was very impressive. This means that at least half of the 10 tests were very good for Zimbabwe, unlike what you portray here.

    So if they can recapture some of the fight that they showed in those tests, it should at least be a fighting loss. However, if they crumble as they did in New Zealand or West Indies, it could be over in two days.

  • on August 7, 2014, 5:51 GMT

    i m a pak fan but would like to remind firdose that zim has won against Pak as well just recently

  • karthik_ig on August 7, 2014, 3:56 GMT

    I want to see a zimbabwe like their side in 90's..they were very much competitive..Remeber they have qualified for super six round of 1998 world cup. They have beaten many test playing nations.think of this zimbabwe side..andy flower, grant flower, guy whittal, allistair campbell, travis friend, heath streak, andy whittal, paul strang, henry olanga, murray goodwin, neil johnson, david houghton, eddo brandes, charles coventry..They need to build the side like this..BCCI should help in reviving their cricket fortunes..

  • Rajesh_india_1990 on August 7, 2014, 14:26 GMT

    I m supporting Zimbabwe here...If Zimbabwe win means India will be the new number 1 test team...

  • on August 7, 2014, 13:33 GMT

    mine playing 11 would be mawoyo,raza,hamilton maasakadza,taylor,vermeulen, williams, chigumbura(allrounder),utseya/shingi,chatara,phanyangara.

  • ZCFOutkast on August 7, 2014, 13:10 GMT

    There is no error here gentlemen. Pakistan win and compettitive matches against PAK&NZ before that were not forgotten. Just left out. This is deliberately argued in this fashion to make ZIM appear worse than they are.

  • Nduru on August 7, 2014, 12:59 GMT

    @NixNixon. We are not ALL that naive. Of course, we hope they won't be completely slaughtered and one or two guys play reasonably well, but of course it will be a one-sided affair.

  • sussmith0589 on August 7, 2014, 12:47 GMT

    As much I support Zim, I will just be happy if they can take this match to Day 5. That will be a good enough achievement in itself.

  • TommytuckerSaffa on August 7, 2014, 12:25 GMT

    This will be a good opportunity to boost those Test averages. Hopefully SA bat first.

  • NixNixon on August 7, 2014, 11:01 GMT

    I know a lot of Zim fans would believe that they can put up some sort of show, but lets be realistic, SA is gonna play their best 11 and they are going to blow Zim out of the water. 3 days max. Good luck to both teams.

  • Nduru on August 7, 2014, 8:15 GMT

    Yeah, Firdose, I'm not sure why you haven't spoken about Zim's test comeback? Not only did they beat Bangladesh twice and Pakistan, but they played a wonderful test in which they almost beat New Zealand in Bulawayo - only reason they lost is because they went for the win rather than try for a draw on day 5. There were also flashes of brilliance in the previous test series against Pakistan - Tino Mawoyo's 164* against Said Ajmal and co was very impressive. This means that at least half of the 10 tests were very good for Zimbabwe, unlike what you portray here.

    So if they can recapture some of the fight that they showed in those tests, it should at least be a fighting loss. However, if they crumble as they did in New Zealand or West Indies, it could be over in two days.

  • on August 7, 2014, 5:51 GMT

    i m a pak fan but would like to remind firdose that zim has won against Pak as well just recently

  • karthik_ig on August 7, 2014, 3:56 GMT

    I want to see a zimbabwe like their side in 90's..they were very much competitive..Remeber they have qualified for super six round of 1998 world cup. They have beaten many test playing nations.think of this zimbabwe side..andy flower, grant flower, guy whittal, allistair campbell, travis friend, heath streak, andy whittal, paul strang, henry olanga, murray goodwin, neil johnson, david houghton, eddo brandes, charles coventry..They need to build the side like this..BCCI should help in reviving their cricket fortunes..

  • Sexysteven on August 7, 2014, 3:28 GMT

    I think South Africa should be doing more to help zimbo cricket improve they need to play them more regular and let the zimbos better players play in South africas domestic cricket and whatever else they can do to help zimb get better South Africa being zimbos neighbour have a responsibility to help them so far they keep ignoring them that's not the way to go the better zimb can get is better for world cricket somebody needs to help them and I think it's South Africa along with the Icc should be the ppl to help them

  • Haree on August 7, 2014, 2:44 GMT

    Zimbabwe stunned Pakistan in the first test of a 2 test series in 2013, didn't they?

  • NBZ1 on August 7, 2014, 2:41 GMT

    Firdose, one correction: since their comeback, Zimbabwe have actually won 3 out of 10 matches, including 1 against Pakistan.

  • electric_loco_WAP4 on August 7, 2014, 1:40 GMT

    Seems like deja vu again.A couple-or more-of SA bats making merry with big 1s @ expense of Zim 'attack',then the turn of the bowlers to have some fun too,to end the 1 sided 'contest' by d3.Think of great Aussies of recent past vs most of top 9 teams! :)

  • dunger.bob on August 7, 2014, 0:39 GMT

    It hardly seems fair. Still, it should be good for Zim cricket to get exposure to this class of players. A heavy defeat is very likely but that doesn't mean they won't get anything out of it.

  • on August 6, 2014, 23:59 GMT

    Hoping Zimbabwe team gives the proteas some fight.

  • on August 6, 2014, 23:37 GMT

    It's a kind of pressure, being such firm favourites. Really glad to see Zimbabwe getting some more Test action; they and Bangladesh entertained a great deal last time.

  • on August 6, 2014, 23:23 GMT

    Nothing has really changed in Zimbabwe. South Africa, off all nations, should understand the effectiveness and value of maintaining a stance of exclusion so as to motivate change.. and how long it takes.

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • on August 6, 2014, 23:23 GMT

    Nothing has really changed in Zimbabwe. South Africa, off all nations, should understand the effectiveness and value of maintaining a stance of exclusion so as to motivate change.. and how long it takes.

  • on August 6, 2014, 23:37 GMT

    It's a kind of pressure, being such firm favourites. Really glad to see Zimbabwe getting some more Test action; they and Bangladesh entertained a great deal last time.

  • on August 6, 2014, 23:59 GMT

    Hoping Zimbabwe team gives the proteas some fight.

  • dunger.bob on August 7, 2014, 0:39 GMT

    It hardly seems fair. Still, it should be good for Zim cricket to get exposure to this class of players. A heavy defeat is very likely but that doesn't mean they won't get anything out of it.

  • electric_loco_WAP4 on August 7, 2014, 1:40 GMT

    Seems like deja vu again.A couple-or more-of SA bats making merry with big 1s @ expense of Zim 'attack',then the turn of the bowlers to have some fun too,to end the 1 sided 'contest' by d3.Think of great Aussies of recent past vs most of top 9 teams! :)

  • NBZ1 on August 7, 2014, 2:41 GMT

    Firdose, one correction: since their comeback, Zimbabwe have actually won 3 out of 10 matches, including 1 against Pakistan.

  • Haree on August 7, 2014, 2:44 GMT

    Zimbabwe stunned Pakistan in the first test of a 2 test series in 2013, didn't they?

  • Sexysteven on August 7, 2014, 3:28 GMT

    I think South Africa should be doing more to help zimbo cricket improve they need to play them more regular and let the zimbos better players play in South africas domestic cricket and whatever else they can do to help zimb get better South Africa being zimbos neighbour have a responsibility to help them so far they keep ignoring them that's not the way to go the better zimb can get is better for world cricket somebody needs to help them and I think it's South Africa along with the Icc should be the ppl to help them

  • karthik_ig on August 7, 2014, 3:56 GMT

    I want to see a zimbabwe like their side in 90's..they were very much competitive..Remeber they have qualified for super six round of 1998 world cup. They have beaten many test playing nations.think of this zimbabwe side..andy flower, grant flower, guy whittal, allistair campbell, travis friend, heath streak, andy whittal, paul strang, henry olanga, murray goodwin, neil johnson, david houghton, eddo brandes, charles coventry..They need to build the side like this..BCCI should help in reviving their cricket fortunes..

  • on August 7, 2014, 5:51 GMT

    i m a pak fan but would like to remind firdose that zim has won against Pak as well just recently