Test matches (2): Zimbabwe 0, New Zealand 2
Imagine The Oval, the SCG, or the Wanderers being denied Test cricket for almost five years. And imagine the ground being besieged by political protesters and almost as many riot police. There you have a sense of the atmosphere at Bulawayo. Arrests outside the gates during the first over of the Second Test were followed by more after the 36th, when sections of the crowd stood up, waved flags and sang the national anthem to lament the 36 years of Robert Mugabe's reign.
Hunter S. Thompson would have revelled in the scene, but the fear and loathing clouded an otherwise bright morning for Zimbabwe's cricket-minded folk. By then, New Zealand had romped to the First Test by an innings. It was Zimbabwe's tenth defeat in 12 since their previous Test in Bulawayo, including five games in Harare (bypassed this time because its political activism was even stronger). And yet the memory of their two victories, against Bangladesh and Pakistan in 2013, was cause for something close to hope: in their history, they had now won 11 Tests out of 98; two out of 12 suggested improvement.
That optimism told of what it is to be a Zimbabwe cricket fan, to magnify pinpricks of brightness in the gloom - the feisty 40, or the miserly five overs before tea - rather than trip the light fantastic. So, in these parts, they ignored the eventual series whitewash, and toasted the centuries by Sean Williams an Craig Ervine, one brave, the other stoic. And they marvelled at Graeme Cremer in his first Test series as captain.
New Zealand came from another world. While Zimbabwe had been subsisting on Test crumbs for five years, the New Zealanders had played 43 Tests, and won 14. That they added two more successes here surprised no one. They did have their own challenges: Kane Williamson was at the Test helm for the first time, steering his side into an uncertain future without Brendon McCullum and Daniel Vettori. But six centuries, including two each by Tom Latham and Ross Taylor, bristling pace bowling epitomised by Neil Wagner, and even an off-spinning cameo by Martin Guptill told of a team continuing their rise."When you replace the likes of Dan and Brendon, you don't expect the same output straightaway," said Mike Hesson, their New Zealand coach. But, sometimes, you get it anyway.
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