Brendan Taylor, the Zimbabwe captain, has said his team will continue to play attacking, aggressive Test cricket, even though chasing a win instead of playing for the draw against New Zealand in Bulawayo may have cost them the match. New Zealand won by 34 runs after setting Zimbabwe a steep 366 to chase for victory.
On a traditionally flat pitch, Zimbabwe decided to bat for a result, despite needing 305 on the final day with eight wickets standing. A century from Taylor and a half-century by Tatenda Taibu kept them in the hunt but a spectacular collapse, in which they lost six wickets for 44 runs, saw them end up on the losing side. Taylor said he had no regrets about thinking positively.
"If we want to become better cricketers, we have to play like that," he told ESPNcricinfo. "If you don't test yourself, you won't know how far you can go."
Taylor has only captained Zimbabwe in three Tests, but has already become known for brave decision making. In Zimbabwe's comeback Test, against Bangladesh in Harare in August, Taylor declared Zimbabwe's second innings on 291 for 5 early on the fourth day, setting Bangladesh 375 to win. Critics said Zimbabwe should have batted longer to ensure Bangladesh were out of the game but Taylor preferred to dangle the carrot instead. The result was a comprehensive 130-run win for Zimbabwe with two sessions to spare.
When Taylor found himself in the opposite situation, with New Zealand leaving Zimbabwe a gettable target, he accepted the challenge. "You have to be realistic and we felt that it was realistic to go for the win." Even though Zimbabwe have a short batting line-up, which Taylor admits "stops at No. 7," Taylor felt that with two frontline batsmen occupying the crease for most of the day the target was within reach. He shared a 108-run fourth-wicket partnership with Taibu and believed one of them would take Zimbabwe over the line. "I wanted us both to spend a session or a session-and-a-half at the crease and thought that if one of us was there at the end, we could win."
It was when the pair were dismissed that the collapse began, which raised questions about Zimbabwe's lack of stability in the lower-middle order. "We are missing some guys through injury," Taylor said. "Elton Chigumbura is struggling with a hamstring injury and Graeme Cremer has been out for a while [with a knee injury]. They could really make a difference."
While the cricketing world was touched, disappointed and some even a little heartbroken for Zimbabwe after they lost, Taylor said the team were not overcome by a sense of gloom. "Within 20 minutes afterwards we were ok. We had a meeting and everyone was very praiseworthy of each other. We gave it our all; for five days we played good cricket and to take it late into the fifth day we knew we had done something right."
Since their return to Test cricket, Zimbabwe have won one Test and lost two, won four ODIs, including a record run-chase against New Zealand, but lost seven and been defeated in four Twenty20 internationals. Taylor said it's not the numbers but the progress that matters.
"To have won the third ODI against New Zealand gave us confidence and we came close in the Test. We can hold our heads high. The senior guys have performed and helped the younger guys."
The Test against New Zealand saw contributions from several of the more-experienced players in the team. Vusi Sibanda scored 93 in the first innings and Chris Mpofu showed an understanding of the conditions to take 4 for 92, before Taylor and Taibu shone on the final day. There were also impressive performances from some of the younger players: Kyle Jarvis took 5 for 64 and Malcolm Waller, on debut, scored an undefeated 72 in the first innings. "We can take positives out of all of these things," Taylor said.
Zimbabwe have a break for the next two months, during which the players will play in the local T20 competition. Their first assignment next year is a tour of New Zealand that consists of a one-off Test, three ODIs and two T20s. It will provide a barometer to measure how Zimbabwe cope in foreign conditions.