Almost 20 years ago - on 9 June 1983 to be precise - Zimbabwe met Australia in their first-ever World Cup match at the historic Trent Bridge ground in Nottingham. The result astonished the cricket world. The newcomers beat the mighty Australians by 13 runs.
Man of the Match was the current England coach, Duncan Fletcher, who scored 69 not out and took four wickets for 42 runs, not to mention his astute captaincy. Iain Butchart shared an unbroken 75-run partnership with him for the seventh wicket, which was to remain a World Cup record for many years. The wily off-spinner John Traicos put intense pressure on the six left-handers in the Australian top order, bowling his 12 overs for just 27 runs.
Will history repeat itself at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo this World Cup? The recent records of both suggest this is virtually inconceivable. The Australian juggernaut has been ruthlessly crushing all in its path. Zimbabwe can beat the minnows, but have declined since the last World Cup so that a yawning gulf has opened up between them and the senior Test-playing countries.
The Australian team today is stronger, and more united, than was the side captained by Kim Hughes, who failed to command the respect of senior players such as Rod Marsh, Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, then in the autumns of their careers. The new-ball bowlers were Geoff Lawson and Rodney Hogg, so it was no mean bowling attack. Hughes himself, Allan Border and Kepler Wessels were the leading lights in a batting order that nevertheless was nowhere near as powerful as today's line-up.
Since Zimbabwe did not play Test cricket, it is hard to compare the team then with that today. They had two outstanding batsmen in Dave Houghton and Andy Pycroft, against which Zimbabwe today can offer only Andy Flower. But none of the top three in the order reached as many as 40 in an innings during their six matches of 1983.
The bowling was led by Peter Rawson, as fine a bowler at his best as Heath Streak is at his. Kevin Curran was then a superior bowler to what he was during his county career, before his back injury. In the Australian match Rawson's opening partner was Vince Hogg, today managing director of the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, and rated months earlier by an experienced Young West Indies team as a seamer of genuine international quality. Add seamers Fletcher and Butchart, and spinner Traicos, and it can be seen that Zimbabwe 's attack then was considerably superior to what they can offer today.
This time round, probably rain is the only thing that could possibly stop Australia from adding another scalp to their tally. Zimbabwe's poor recent record has not been improved by the recent controversies over the suitability of their country as a World Cup venue and the furore over protest of Andy Flower and Henry Olonga over the situation in the country, not to mention the private feelings of other players about it. They outclassed Namibia, as expected, but were never able to match an Indian team that was also struggling with its problems.
Zimbabwe should provide few problems for the rampant Australians. Unless Olonga plays and has one of his inspired days, Streak is the only bowler likely to command any respect from the powerful visiting batting line-up; the rest will be little more than cannon fodder.
Andy Flower, the bulwark of Zimbabwe's batting, was clearly distracted by off-field issues in the Indian match, but at least Zimbabwe's batting has been more resilient recently. But they will have to face far more fearsome bowling power than the Australians, and their finest effort is unlikely to be good enough. The best they can realistically hope for is an honourable defeat in a high-scoring match.