The last time Zimbabwe Cricket team rejoiced in the sport was back in 2014 when they recorded a victory against Australia in a One-day International (ODI). That was Zimbabwe’s first ODI win over Australia after a long gap of 31 years. Ever since then, Zimbabwe have had three different coaches but their graph in cricket has only gone downwards. They had a terrible ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 followed by an early exit from the ICC World T20 2016 that led to the cricket board had axed their coach Dav Whatmore. They missed on the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 because they were out of the top eight in the ICC ODI Team Rankings.
Zimbabwe’s record touched a new low in the 50-over format when they lost to Afghanistan twice at home in the ODI series. Let alone fairing well against the higher ranked sides like India, Australia and South Africa, Zimbabwe have also struggled against minors such as Afghanistan, Ireland and Scotland. Despite having the South African star Makhaya Ntini as their bowling coach, their bowling department is in bits and pieces and always let its team down. There have been several occasions when the likes of Tendai Chatara, skipper Graeme Cremer, Sean Williams and Sikandar Raza have failed to defend 300+ totals.
The new coach and former Zimbabwean pace bowler, Heath Streak was roped in for the role after Zimbabwe’s disastrous World T20 campaign in 2016. Ever since he had come in, Zimbabwe had not shown any new results. They once again ended on the losing side when they hosted Afghanistan for a 50-overs series. They merely managed to draw a two-ODI series 1-1 against Scotland. After having worked together for almost a year, the duo of Streak and Ntini has finally begun to show some progress in the Zimbabwean team. The team, that is at present touring Sri Lanka for a five-match ODI series and a one-off Test, seems more determined and confident and their body language does the talking for them.
Zimbabwe’s strength being their batters, took full advantage of the lost toss and all the experienced men chipped in with crucial scores and helped Zimbabwe chase down a 300-plus total with six wickets and 14 balls remaining. The 27-year-old and the eventual Player of the Match Solomon Mire hit his maiden ODI century and laid a solid platform for his side during their chase of 317 runs in 50 overs. The other senior men, Williams and Raza scored crucial half-centuries to ensure Zimbabwe successfully went over the wire and went 1-0 up in the five-ODI series against Sri Lanka.
The second game was completely one-sided and the hosts made no mistake to equalise the series, 1-1. Zimbabwe’s ever-green opener Hamilton Masakzada gave them a brilliant start and ended his innings with a fourth ODI to his account. For the loss of eight wickets, the touring party ended their innings with 310 runs on the board. Once again, it was an absolute blow from the bowlers, who never troubled the opposition’s batsmen even at one occasion in the match. The Sri Lankan openers Niroshan Dickwella and Danushka Gunathilaka scored a hundred each, with an ease and set the tone for the Lankan chase. Sri Lanka, eventually, won the match by eight wickets with 16 balls remaining.
The fourth ODI happened to be hit by rains and bad light. Even with these hurdles, the visitors kept their composure and drew the series 2-2 and forced the fifth and last game to be a decider. Although the Sri Lankans set Zimbabwe a target of 301 in 50 overs, the rains the Duckworth-Lewis (D/L) method had revised the target to 219 runs off 31 overs. It will be wrong to blame the rains and suggest that the reduced overs and runs gave the Zimbabweans an advantage. Their four-wicket win was more of a result of their disciplined bowling in the last 10 overs. When the hosts looked to put up, at least 350 runs on the board, Zimbabwe conceded only 91 runs in the last 10 overs and restricted the Lankans at 300 runs at the end of 50 overs. For once, the Zimbabwean bowlers made a difference in the result of the game. When Niroshan Dickwella and Danushka Gunathilaka set with an opening partnership of 209 and became the first pair in ODI history to score back-to-back double-century stands, the likes of Chris Mpofu, Chatara and Raza negated the start with some commendable death and economic bowling.
The visitors once again found themselves in trouble when they came out to bat. A quick fall of wickets had slowly begun to bring Sri Lanka back into the game. However, a calm and composed Craig Ervine managed to bat out his innings and at the end of Zimbabwe’s win, he was unbeaten on 69 off 55.
Prior to this tour, Zimbabwe did not have a single ODI win in Sri Lanka and now they already have two, with the decider match to be played tomorrow. Zimbabwean skipper Cremer, being a bowler himself has to work on his bowlers and chalk out a plan to stop the Sri Lankans at Hambantota, especially the openers who have been in a hot form throughout the series. It has been two years since Zimbabwe won an ODI bilateral series. (They beat Ireland in 2015) A series win against Sri Lanka in their backyard might not make big alterations in Zimbabwe’s rankings but it will do wonders for them psychologically.