It has been more than 12 years since Zimbabwe last played a Test match in South Africa. In March 2005, when Tatenda Taibu’s team crossed the border to take on the Proteas in red-ball cricket, only five days of play was enough for the hosts to complete a 2-0 thrashing.
Zimbabwe Cricket back then was in a dire state due to the social-political problems back home and most of its top white cricketers had walked away in protest of Robert Mugabe’s regime. Without them, Zimbabwe went from being a competitive international side to almost a youth team. Hence, they couldn’t put any resistance against their mighty neighbours in that last meeting.
Well, now, as these two African teams are gearing up to lock horns in the inaugural day-night four-day Test match in Port Elizabeth, things are in a slightly better shape for Zimbabwe.
This four-day version of Test cricket is an unknown territory for both sides. Furthermore, it will be a day-night fixture to be played with a pink ball — the eighth one overall and the first one on South African soil. So, there is a fair chance of vulnerability amongst the players. Keeping this in mind the Cricket South Africa has opted for a full-strength squad for this one-off Test series and of course, they will be the favourites.
However, there is no point disrespecting Zimbabwe, despite the fact that they have lost the warm-up game against a CSA Invitation XI — a team with only four players with franchise experience — at Paarl.
The current Zimbabwe Test team, led by leg-spinner Graeme Cremer, is a settled unit. In 2017, they have impressed by almost winning a Test match in Sri Lanka and giving West Indies a tough fight at home.
The returns of senior pros like Brenden Taylor and Kyle Jarvis from the English County circuit is a huge morale booster for this team. Besides they have experienced cricketers like Hamilton Masakadza, Craig Ervine, Sikandar Raza and skipper Creamer, who have spent a significant amount of time in the international arena.
“The great thing for Zimbabwe cricket is the fact that they’ve got some senior players back into the team. Test cricket is now something that is a big thing for them to push forward. It’s great to see smaller countries getting an opportunity to play Test cricket,” even South Africa’s Test captain Faf du Plessis has highlighted this aspect in his pre-match presser.
On paper, it looks like a well-balanced side.
With the experience of Taylor, Masakadza, Ervine and Raza surrounding the promise of Solomon Mire and Peter Moor, their top six looks quite sorted. If Taylor keeps then they can even think of squeezing the uncapped Ryan Burl, who was Zimbabwe’s best batsman in Paarl, into the side. Otherwise, Regis Chakabva will take that place.
Their bowling attack is likely to have three frontline seamers — Jarvis, uncapped Blessing Muzarabani and Christopher Mpofu or Tendai Chatara — along with leg-spin of captain Cremer.
Meanwhile, there is a fair bit of excitement surrounding the young speedster Muzarabani. At more than two meters tall, the youngster has the ability to deliver the ball from a greater height than Morne Morkel and generate a fair bit of extra bounce from the surface. He can touch the 135kmph mark on a regular basis.
“He’s very tall, he gets a lot of bounce and he gets the ball through when he gets a good rhythm. There was good positive feedback from the warm-up game and we’ll look to him to get us breakthroughs in the Test match,” talking about Muzarabani in his pre-match press conference, Cremer sounded quite optimistic.
Whereas coach Heath Streak, who is known for spotting talents early, has already pinned his hope on this ‘exciting prospect’.
“We’re excited to have him because he offers some variation to what we have. He’s an exciting prospect for the future of Zimbabwe cricket.”
In this fixture, Zimbabwe have nothing to lose but everything to gain. All the pressure will be on South Africa to put up a commanding show before the India series. And remember, the world will be closely monitoring the progress of this historic game and any significant performance from by the Cremer’s team will be noticed and appreciated. It seems like an ideal opportunity for Zimbabwe to make their presence felt in the post-Mugabe era.