Zimbabwe v South Africa, only Test, Harare, 4th day August 12, 2014

South Africa win the match, Zimbabwe win hearts

Both Zimbabwe and South Africa had gains from the one-off Test in Harare, and both teams got what they wanted to a degree

Quinton de Kock was a big plus for South Africa © AFP

Vusi Sibanda's cheeky cut over the slips. Morne Morkel beating Donald Tiripano's inside-edge with a seaming delivery that was too good for the nightwatchman. The ball from Dane Piedt that turned from offstump to a foot outside leg stump. Richmond Mutumbami's cover drive laced with class.


Moments connected by periods of what you would see if you lay down on the grass embankments at Harare Sports Club and looked up at the sky: wisps of white floating lazily, dreamily, even aimlessly. That is the kind of Test match this was.

The odd moment of brilliance cut through otherwise predictable proceedings. The expected result eventually came but it took longer than was thought necessary and the resistance was more robust than it was supposed to be.

On a surface which the South Africans said made them feel as though they were back in Sri Lanka, the passages of play they did not dictate took place in slow-motion. Their own run-scoring was laboured, punctuated with leaving and blocking, and lacked intent. Where they could control, which was mainly with the ball, they made use of the turn and reverse-swing on offer and in an important period after lunch on the final day, a series of five moments undid Zimbabwe's 10 sessions of fight.

That was really all South Africa needed. They were not looking for a perversely big or quick win, just a win, "even if we win on the last session of the last day", as JP Duminy put it. That it happened in the dying period of day four served as testament to Zimbabwe's pluckiness.

On their own pitch, designed mostly to protect against the real danger South Africa's pacers could pose, Zimbabwe persisted for longer than teams ranked places above them who play more regularly than they do. They have only had one opportunity to tussle in a Test in this year so tussle they did, as tough as it was.

The good news for Zimbabwe is that, like South Africa, they have three Tests scheduled before next year's World Cup - but not too many after that either - so this match was an important information-gathering exercise for both teams. Zimbabwe needed to see that they still had both the desire to play Test cricket and the personnel; South Africa the same, although on a different scale.

Despite being the No. 1 ranked team in the world, South Africa will only play six Tests in 12 months from this July to next. To hold on their ranking during that drought, they need to get things exactly right most of the time and will need to, again, in the home summer when they host West Indies.

Again, it is anticipated they will dominate the opposition and they have made some discoveries over the last month which could help them do that. Hashim Amla's ease at accepting the captaincy was one of them because he did not once appear overwhelmed by his task. Piedt is one for the future and has shown the direction to take after Imran Tahir. Quinton de Kock's promotion to the side is another positive. Not only has he relieved AB de Villiers from behind the stumps but he also proved an able No. 6 batsman to add to South Africa's strength in that department.

De Kock was the batsman who showed the greatest sense of purpose in Harare. That he has the ability to score quickly and what appears to be fairly effortlessly does not hurt. He will be one of the players most closely watched in the coming season when local fans are less likely to be as tolerant of the go-slow batting approach they have witnessed from the distance of their television screens over the last two matches.

Pitches in South Africa will certainly facilitate quicker run-scoring but the team will perhaps have to relook at at least one of the people tasked with doing that. Before the Harare Test they already identified Alviro Petersen's spot as one that may become a vacancy and his showing in the Test would have confirmed that. With yet another unconverted start, Petersen has taken his run of the innings without a century to 23. Since the Pakistan series in February last year, he has scored 493 runs, including two fifties, in 22 innings and averaged 24.65.

That is lower than his Zimbabwean counterpart Vusi Sibanda, who has also had calls for his head. Since Zimbabwe's Test comeback, Sibanda has notched up 523 runs in 20 innings at an average of 26.15 with two fifties.

In this match, Sibanda acquitted himself well enough to buy himself some time with his second innings showing but he will be expected to deliver more than he has done in the recent past when Zimbabwe tour Bangladesh later this year. They are due to play their first three-Tests series in more than 13 years this October and the duration of the contest will be as much a challenge as the conditions.

Brendan Taylor expects the subcontinent to somewhat resemble what Zimbabwe had in Harare and has identified finding "two good spinners" as crucial to success on that tour. Already, they may have one. Offspinner John Nyumbu became only the second Zimbabwean to claim a five-for on debut and although he had conditions in his favour and may still lack some control, he could be an option to partner either Prosper Utseya or Natsai Mushangwe.

What Zimbabwe will not want for when they take on Bangladesh is determination. They showed their enthusiasm to embrace the uncomfortable when they took on the best team in the world with brave faces and big hearts. South Africa won the match, Zimbabwe won admirers. Even if only for a few moments.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Amila on August 13, 2014, 21:31 GMT

    Zim gave some fight against #1 SA. Zim should get more matches against relatively tough opponents like WI, NZ and SL to improve along their new learning curve. BD was not considered since they are below Zim in ranking. To improve, you should play against tougher opponents.

  • David on August 13, 2014, 20:07 GMT

    @ MariusPontmercy94 commented "@Greatest_Game I disagree to a degree with what you said. I do not believe that this was a bad pitch for a Test match."

    Marius, I agree. I said elsewhere that if the Harare pitch was produced in Asia for Eng or Aus to play on, there would be wailing & gnashing of teeth & heavy criticism - but not from me!. I don't fault Zim one bit for the pitch or for playing to their strengths. That's Test Cricket!

    I responded to Firdose's point that, AT HOME, SA fans "are less likely to be as tolerant of (SA's) go-slow batting approach" seen in Zim & Sri Lanka. I said fans IN SA want pitches that make for the cricket they like to see. I criticized pitches produced IN SA for the India tests, but did not criticize the Harare pitch, or the SL pitches.

    I like tests on any pitch: differing conditions ARE the Test. But, I REALLY like the juicy tracks I grew up with! My 1st test I saw Barry Richards & Graeme Pollock flaying Aus at Kingsmead, and I guess I never recovered!

  • Marius on August 13, 2014, 8:58 GMT

    @Greatest_Game I disagree to a degree with what you said. I do not believe that this was a bad pitch for a Test match. It may not have been a South African pitch - but this was not South Africa. Zimbabwe had a pitch that suited their strengths - the consistent line and length outside off, and their patience. Just as if this had been played in South Africa, it would have been on a pitch where Steyn and Morkel could essentially bounce and yorker out the Zimbabwe lineup no problem. This was a pitch that rewarded patience and disciplined play. If South Africa wanted to score, they had to go after the ball outside off stump, and risk nicking behind. It seems that some people are forgetting that Tests go for 5 days. It shouldn't be that patience is criticized when it is a vital part of Test cricket. It's not T20. Overall, good job to Zimbabwe for making a match of it. There's loads of raw talent there, they just need more games at an international level. Also, nice to see a good SA spinner.

  • Jonathan on August 13, 2014, 8:36 GMT

    There is a lot about Piedt being the discovery for South Africa by getting five wickets in the first innings and then 4 in the second. However that was against the ninth placed team. And then there is very little about the other test debut spinner on the Zimbabwe team who also took five wicket in the first innings against the number one test nation. My applause goes to Nyumbu for a sterling job!

  • Roger on August 13, 2014, 8:00 GMT

    I take the journalistic debate about SA's overly cautious approach to test cricket with a pinch of salt - because it is just that : debate. And debate encourages comment and involvement by us, the fans.

    It's test cricket, should you want fireworks - watch T20's and ODI's. That's what they are for. Personally, I want 5 days of cricket with take-your-breath away closing moments like the last Sri Lanka vs Pakistan test. And memories of Smith's last test @ Newlands where Philander & Morkel *almost* resisted the Ozzies. Win or Lose, that's Test cricket I want to watch.

  • David on August 13, 2014, 1:59 GMT

    Firdose is dead right saying SA "fans are less likely to be as tolerant of the go-slow batting approach they have witnessed ... over the last two matches."

    Oh yeah! SA fans want action. If traditional SA seaming & bouncing wickets are produced, & not the dead tracks we saw against India, we will see something on offer for both ball AND bat. Good SA pitches are the backbone of the action & excitement of SA cricket.

    It was that SA that produced the 438 match, the fastest & highest cumulative scoring ODI - 872 runs in 100 overs - considered by most as The Greatest ODI ever. It was not played on a flat track. Batsmen scored because the ball came on fast & true, & the outfield was quick - neither sucked the life out of the ball & the game. Batsmen got value for their shots, & batsmen play shots when there is reward for playing them. Batting on dead surfaces & rank turning land mines is a gamble: they don't produce the action, & excitement fans want. Dead pitches make for dead cricket!

  • Shoaib on August 12, 2014, 22:32 GMT

    Zimbabwe played well and not losing by an innings against the world number 1 and their first test match of the year against a South African side that recently came victorious in Sri Lanka and regain the top ranking is impressive. Let's not forget the fact that Zimbabwe have lost several major players. Should give them confidence heading into the limited overs game.

  • des on August 12, 2014, 20:29 GMT

    Well done Zim, they fought hard. Even the tail-enders were standing up to the likes of Morkel and taking blows rather than giving their wickets away. They showed more courage than some higher-ranked teams I've seen lately.

    I thought it was a professional performance from SA. I'm always uncomfortable when journalists, from the comfort of the press box, predict easy wins in 2 or 3 days. These are the best cricketers in their country and they are not just going to lie down. As the home team they prepared a pitch that suited them, as they have every right to do. Bowling well outside the off stump may not be thrill-a-minute stuff but it gave SA the choice of playing risky shots or leaving the ball. Amla and AB took that bait and lost out. Faf got the criticism for slow batting but made 98.

    I enjoyed the test match and the crowd was great. Hope Zim get more tests in future.

  • Dirk on August 12, 2014, 20:27 GMT

    Zimbabwe on home turf is a tough proposition. Less than 12 months ago they beat the current #3 test side Pakistan on this very ground. Beating them in four days required a good performance by an excellent team which at last seems to have acquired a spinner of international standard.

  • Andrew on August 12, 2014, 18:58 GMT

    Well done Zimbabwe for coming out of this match with your heads held high. As on columnist put it: they got in a few blows on their way to the canvass.

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