Zimbabwe: Chevrons, You Beauty!

PESHAWAR in November ’98 — Neil Johnson’s magnificent century, Murray Goodwin’s imperious 73 and the pace, of Heath Streak and Henry Olonga.

Not even a rampant Wasim Akram could stop the Chevrons, recording their maiden Test victory, on the road, with a stunning seven-wicket win over Pakistan.

Chittangong in November 2001 — Craig Wishart’s fine century, Grant Flower and Dougie Marillier sharing eight wickets.

Not even Javed Omar’s fighting 80, in the Tiger’s second innings score of 301, could deny the Chevrons, only their second Test win on the road, with an eight-wicket win over Bangladesh.

Sylhet in November 2018 — Sean Williams’ impressive 88, PJ Moor’s supporting role with an unbeaten 63, Sikandar Raza’s six wickets and Brandon Mavuta’s 4/21 wicket haul, in the second innings.

Not even Taijul Islam’s 11 wickets could stop the Chevrons, from recording only their third Test victory on the road, and their first, on foreign soil, in 17 years, with a 151-run win over Bangladesh.

The beautiful chaos, as the triumphant Zimbabweans exploded into a party, after Ariful Haque top-edged a delivery from Wellington Masakadza, into the hands of Chakabva, provided the sights, and sounds, which make sport such an irresistible drug.

Now, to those list of foreign locations, and conquests, add Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

Yesterday, the Chevrons, powered by captain Sean Williams’ century, and another fine spell by their pacemen — Blessing Masakadza, Victor Nyauza and Donald Tiripano — completed a 10-wicket demolition job of Afghanistan.

It’s the most comprehensive victory, for Zimbabwe, in Test matches, in terms of the time it took them to complete their mission.

And, coming just after India hammered England by 10 wickets, inside two days, in Ahmedabad, the Chevrons’ win is likely to be sucked into the global debate, which has been raging since last week.

It was refreshing, for a change, for the Zimbabweans to find themselves, on the right side of a Test, which ended inside two days.

Three times, they had suffered defeats, within as many days, at the hands of South Africa, in 2005 and 2017, and New Zealand, in 2005.

For Afghanistan, this was their second thrashing, inside two days, after they were destroyed, in as many days, by India, three years ago.

It’s only the 23rd time, since England and Australia played the first Test, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in March 1877, that a match has ended inside two days.

While, eight Test matches, have ended inside two days, since the turn of the millennium, this hadn’t happened for 54 years, since Australia beat New Zealand in 1946.

The Aussies were also the first country, to win a Test match, inside two days, when they crushed England at the Oval in 1882.

For the Chevrons, who were forced to take a break from Test cricket, to help the team sort the in-house issues which had seen them turn into whipping boys, victories in this format, have been few and far between.

Even when they were at their strongest, in the final years of the ’90s, and in the first years of the new millennium, they were competitive, but not serial winners, on the Test arena.

Yesterday’s victory was the team’s only 13th win, in 111 Tests, in which they have lost 70 games, drawn 28 and found themselves with a winning percentage of only 11.71 percent.

This year marks 10 years, since Zimbabwe returned to the Test arena, after having taken a voluntary break from the game, in 2005.

And, while a comprehensive win over Afghanistan, shouldn’t be abused to suggest the Chevrons have become a force, in the game, it’s still a sweet and refreshing result.

It provides those, who have been working tirelessly, behind the scenes, to try and rebuilt the Chevrons, in particular, and domestic cricket, in general, that they are not on a doomed mission.

There are signs that the game is, bit by bit, getting back to its feet.

And, for those who have been very supportive of Zimbabwean cricket, like India, defiantly refusing to let it be buried under the avalanche of its challenges, yesterday’s result will provide a cheer to their spirits.

For the Chevrons to win so comprehensively, without Brendan Taylor, Craig Ervine, Kyle Jarvis and Tendai Chatara, is something that is a huge statement, on its own.

It shows that all the investment, which is being put into the domestic game, to produce the next generation of players, who can represent this team, is not money which is just being pumped into a dark hole.

The selectors’ decision, to settle for the reliable Williams, for the captaincy, also appears to be a masterstroke because he is someone who has passion, for his country, on the sleeve of his shirt.

He was the man-of-the-match, when the Chevrons won, for only the third time, on the road, in Bangladesh, three years ago.

And, he was also the man-of-the-match, when they won again, in Abu Dhabi, yesterday.

His century provided the foundation, on which his team built their victory, while his stunning catch, to dismiss Yamin Ahmadzai, who had received a beauty from Tiripano, was a statement to his team, of the excellence he expects, from everyone else.

“It was a fantastic team performance. I was really happy with my seam bowlers,” Williams said, after yesterday’s sensational win.

“Obviously it was a difficult wicket to bat on, but these challenges come in Test cricket.

“If we take them head on, we’ll succeed. Test cricket can swing in a couple of games. In this game, the senior players came to the party, which is what I want.

“The younger guys will learn from it, I was just happy to see the senior players stand up.”

His counterpart, Asghar Afghan, conceded defeat.

“Congratulations to Zimbabwe, they played very well. When you play good cricket you win the game.

“Our bowlers bowled brilliantly, especially Hamza, but we had too low a total. Second innings, we had scoreboard pressure as well. Next game, we have to think positive.”

That’s what the Chevrons also need to do because, it’s about building a winning culture, which isn’t easier given the quality that they usually face, but there is no harm in believing.

And, more importantly, in playing as well as they did, in the past two days.

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