Match Analysis

Victory cries crescendo at Castle Corner

The Harare crowd's songs were the joyous soundtrack to a long-awaited Zimbabwe win, one that shouldn't be defined by the fiasco of its ending

Chamu Chibhabha struck a patient 90, Zimbabwe v Pakistan, 2nd ODI, Harare, October 3, 2015

Chamu Chibhabha's first innings 90 got the Harare fans geared up for a hearty effort in the field  •  AFP

There's a song they sing at Castle Corner, the rowdy epicentre of home support at Harare Sports Club. Actually, there are lots of songs they sing at Castle Corner, but most of them are too bawdy, or locally esoteric, to be printed. Today, though, one song in particular struck exactly the right note.
After Zimbabwe's early strikes had put a spring in the step of the home side, these well-watered comrades repeatedly chanted the 'Emmanuel' war cry: "Emma, vanongotishainira Emma ukavasiya so Emma, Emmanuere Emma! (Emma, they always look down upon us, so let them, leave them like that Emma, Emmanuel, Emma!)".
The etymology of the name Emmanual is biblical, meaning 'God is with us', but in a cricketing context it's not so much a religious invocation as an expression of self worth. The big teams all look down on us, they're saying, but we believe in ourselves. While the rest of us asked, 'Who is this team and what have they done with the milksops who offered the first three games of this tour in benefaction to the visitors?', the Castle Corner faithful simply sang their joy.
That joy seemed in danger of disappearing when Zimbabwe's luck, a rare enough commodity as it is, appeared to evaporate entirely in the midst of Aamer Yamin and Shoaib Malik's sustained mid-afternoon onslaught. Graeme Cremer's eye-watering twisted ankle in his second over, after he'd just taken a wicket in his first, was the omen for what followed.
Catches were dropped, a stumping missed, and a free hit off a marginal no-ball was fumbled on the ropes to give Pakistan six runs where there should only have been two. Just as Zimbabwe had risen as a team, so they fell as one. The milksops were back.
Once again the voices struck up: "Vanongotishainira, ukavasiya so Emma..."
It took a moment of inspiration to dig a team out of this sort of funk. It took an inspired captain. It also took a slice of luck. Elton Chigumbura probably wouldn't even have bowled today had it not been for Cremer's injury. He hadn't bowled an international over since Zimbabwe's loss against Pakistan at the Gabba more than seven months ago.
When Chigumbura was asked before this series whether he was fit to bowl his answer was a supremely minimalist "yes". That's the thing about Chigumbura: he's a somewhat quiet, equable captain who doesn't say much. Yet when he had Yamin fortuitously caught down the leg side, you could hear his roar all the way up in the pressbox.
You could also hear a new war cry echoing around the ground, the classic: "Yave nyama yekugocha (It's meat for roasting!)". But Zimbabwe couldn't stick a fork in Pakistan, because they weren't quite done yet. Indeed, this extraordinary game wasn't quite done with any of us yet.
The gathering stormclouds put an electrical charge in the air, and one felt that something special was going to happen. The afternoon had greyed as the ominous-looking clouds built up to the east of the ground, but from beyond the western horizon the sun burst through the gloaming after Chigumbura's wicket and the ground was bathed in golden light.
For a few magical minutes, sun and rain met and mingled over a cricket match being played and watched at fever pitch. They call it a "monkey's wedding" here, and it was almost too beautiful.
The change in mood started as early as this morning, when there was a newly determined air to Zimbabwe's preparations. Before the toss, Sikandar Raza spent a long time out in the middle shadow batting. He continued to twirl his bat nervously as Zimbabwe met for a team huddle, with coach Dav Whatmore giving a stirring speech to his charges that focused on the need for the team to go into battle for one another. The rousing speech from an embattled coach, his team stuck with their backs against the wall, is something of a sporting cliché. This time, it clearly worked.
Cricket is a game that builds its narrative at the intersection of physical exertion, mental fortitude and emotional connection. A myriad of individual battles within a team game, it can be achingly boring, unbearably exciting, intriguing, frustrating. It can also be very, very silly.
Yet it would be wrong to let this match be defined by the fiasco of its ending because, despite that snafu, it was absurdly gripping all the way to its perfectly imperfect denouement. In a country that has lived through 79.6 billion percent hyperinflation, where the wide lack of a reliable electricity supply has set off an online flurry of hyper-local memes, and where beer - rather than a glass of tap water - is the healthy choice, this preposterous cricket match fit right in.
This was a very Zimbabwean cricket match, and that's what really resonated about Castle Corner's choice of war cry. God was with them, and their prayers were answered as the Mashonaland sky was rented by the very first rains of the season.

Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town