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Dave Houghton: 'Nice to get these reward top-ups to show the guys what they are doing is right'

Zimbabwe head coach hopes for more big-ticket matches after historic win over Australia

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
Brad Evans celebrates the winning runs  •  AFP/Getty Images

Brad Evans celebrates the winning runs  •  AFP/Getty Images

It's been a big few weeks in one-day cricket for Zimbabwe. They beat Bangladesh 2-1 and showed great spirit to run India close in the last match of that series. But their performance in Townsville tops the lot. They had played Australia 13 times on their own soil since 1992 and the closest they had come to victory was Dougie Marillier's near-miss in Perth in 2001.
However, it's not that they'd had many opportunities. This was their first bilateral visit to Australia in nearly 20 years. The first two matches had followed an expected path with the rapid loss on Wednesday being particularly brutal. Zimbabwe needed a bit of luck and they got it when the coin fell their way on Saturday. But they still had to make it count. That they did. Shortly before 3.30pm local time, Brad Evans drove Mitchell Starc through the covers to secure a famous win.
"We're over the moon," head coach Dave Houghton said. "We don't get to beat the big sides that often and to beat them in their country is a huge plus for us and our cricket at the moment."
At the other end when the winning runs came was captain Regis Chakabva. "For me personally, this is probably the highlight of my career up to this point. Playing Australia in Australia is such a big thing," he had told Reuters earlier in the series. And that was before playing a match-winning innings.
Sides like Zimbabwe are often, even if not on purpose, put under pressure to achieve upset wins such as this one to justify more games against 'bigger' teams. In reality, it should be the other way round: they will improve the more chances they get.
Zimbabwe will be back in Australia in around three weeks for the T20 World Cup, where they are in the qualifiers with West Indies, Ireland and Scotland - a tough group to progress from. However, when they will play one of the Big Three again outside of potential meetings at global events is uncertain. In the 2023-27 FTP, Zimbabwe have nothing lined up against India, Australia or England. New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and West Indies are all due to tour under the next cycle.
"I hope it goes a lot way towards providing that [more games]," Houghton said. "There's a bit of good cricket coming up for us over the next six months, but it would be nice to get involved in tours to the bigger countries. The more wins we can get on tours like this, the more our chances are that we might get some bigger opponents on a regular basis."
Despite the joy of victory, Houghton retained a very realistic view of Zimbabwe's game. He had not changed his thoughts on the "huge gap" in skill that he had spoken about before the second match, seeing this side as a long-term project. However, there have been encouraging signs to take away from Australia.
Ryan Burl's 5 for 10 will take the headlines, but Richard Ngarava can know that he has heaped the pressure on Aaron Finch after dismissing him in all three games. After the opening match, Houghton praised the opening pair for seeing off the first ten overs against Starc and Josh Hazlewood - a feat that grew in significance after how the second two contests went for both sides - and in their successful chase, the base laid by Tadiwanashe Marumani and the recalled Takudzwanashe Kaitano ate considerably into the target. In the first match, Wessly Madhevere made an excellent half-century at No. 3 and then there was Chakabva's calm display on Saturday.
"I still think the gulf is huge," Houghton said. "I'll be honest, if we'd lost the toss today I think we'd have seen a game similar to the second game when you are looking at it from a completely different angle. We'd struggle to beat your state sides on a good day.
"We are growing and hopefully we grow quite quickly with the amount of cricket we are beginning to get and the fact we are getting a few results like this…it's really good in enforcing what we are trying to do with the team, the tactics and the skills they have. Because there's nothing worse than working really hard at something and getting absolutely no reward. It's nice to get these little reward top-ups to show the guys what they are doing is right."
Zimbabwe have been in Australia for a little more than a week. They had just two training sessions before the opening game to get over jetlag. They are back on the plane tomorrow to return to Harare. Houghton did not think there would be huge celebrations but said there would be a few beers - for himself included.
A short while later, Burl posted a picture on Twitter clutching a bottle and the match ball inscribed with his extraordinary figures. "A moment I'll cherish forever," he wrote alongside it.
Whatever the schedule says, let's hope it won't be 20 years until Australia invite them again.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo