The date December 22 in cricket holds a widely cherished memory in the history of Zimbabwean cricket. In their inaugural Test against England, Zimbabwe had pulled a thrilling draw on the last ball. It was even more significant because it became the first-ever Test match drawn with equal scores. Nick Knight was the English batsman on the strike, Heath Streak was the bowler and England needed three runs off the final delivery of the match. The spectators at the Queen Sports Club came on their feet when Knight ran to take three runs. The sheer silence at the ground broke into massive cheers as Zimbabwean wicketkeeper ran Knight out as the later ran for the winning run.
In the 25 years of Zimbabwean Test cricket, this Test will always remain among the top moments of the cricket team.
When England toured Zimbabwe for a full-fledged series, the Africans were only four years old in the whites. While England would have thought the tour would be a cake walk for them, they lost the opening ODI by two wickets. Then came the inaugural Test between the two sides at the same ground of Bulawayo. On a slow-turning pitch, Zimbabwe won a useful toss and Alistair Campbell opted to bat. The pitch was so bad that apparently, both runs and wickets needed some chiselling out from both the sides. The first four days were something like that before the major action that awaited on the fifth day.
Dull four days
The toss suddenly backfired when England fast bowler Darren Gough came to bowl the second over for England and had Carlisle caught at short leg with his third delivery. However, with the captain out in the middle with Grant Flower, Zimbabwe managed to switch gears. The two piled up 127 runs in 145 minutes against a bowling that seemed inaccurate and complacent. It was understood that England Captain Atherton had a severe session with the bowling attack at lunch break. What followed next testified that the talk had worked for the skipper.
English debutant Silverwood, who was in because of a poor form and injury of a fast bowler, stepped up and made the needed breakthrough. The credit even went to Nassir Hussain, whose diving catch at third slip off Silverwood’s bowling dismissed well-set opener Grant Flower. Then came one-Test old Robert Croft into the picture. After Zimbabwe scored another six runs, Croft sent back Zimbabwean Skipper Campbell. The latter, who was caught by Silverwood, fell 16 runs short of a maiden Test hundred. Croft took control of things after tea when he produced an incredible spell of 12-6-7-2.
While England aimed to wrap up Zimbabwe’s innings within 300, Andy Flower had different ideas. He pulled out his third Test ton and ensured his side crossed 350-mark. With a few overs left before Tea, Zimbabwe were bowled out for 376 runs and England came out to bat.
Atherton had broken Peter May’s record by leading England in 36 consecutive Tests but could not find a solution to his bad patch with the bat. Since his 160 earlier in the year against India, he had scored just one half-century in the next five Test innings. And even in his first innings against Zimbabwe, he was the first man to depart. He was hit in front of his wicket when playing back to leg-spinner Paul Strang’s 11th ball and that’s when tea was called. Due to heavy rains, play never happened post tea break on the second day.
The third day began in a shaky way when England Opener Knight missed a slow in-swinger from Henry Olanga and was trapped LBW. Then, poor umpiring dismissed Stewart for LBW followed by out of form Thorpe being caught at the slip. However, centuries from Hussain and Crawley put England on 306 for four by the close of play. While the touring party expected these two to add a huge lead to their score, the next morning did not let that happen. Hussain became Steak’s first victim in the Test before the lower-order failed to support Crawley, who had scored a second century in consecutive Tests.
However, initially England’s lead of 30 looked adequate but with Zimbabwe five-down at stumps of the fourth day, Atherton and Co hoped for a victory on Day 5.
Once again the Zimbabwe tail showed they were tough nuts because England needed another 53 overs to bowl Zimbabwe out. By setting a target of 205 runs from 37 overs, Zimbabwe had set up a thrilling showdown at Bulawayo.
Atherton’s poor run continued and once again he was the first English batsman to return to the dugout first. Olanga, who bowled only two overs in the final inning, dismissed the English captain at 17 for 1. The chase was lively when Stewart, who passed 4,000 Test runs as he scored 73 off 76 balls was at the crease. He miscued a pull when England needed 51 off eight overs and brought Zimbabwe right into the Test. He was followed by three more quick wickets but the determined opener Knight was stuck on the other end. He smashed a six off Steak’s final over and suddenly a victory looked around the corner for England.
However, needing three runs off the final ball, England only managed two and the Test ended in a draw.
The tour that was predicted to be an extremely easy one for England ended on a disastrous note as the second Test also ended in a draw and they suffered a whitewash in the three-ODI series. Twenty-one years have passed since England and Zimbabwe’s inaugural Test series, the lower-ranked Zimbabweans have still not won a Test against England.