ZIMBABWE – It has been some time since Zimbabwe had a lasting impact on a global ICC tournament, with the 2003 World Cup the last time they progressed beyond the opening round.
But Zimbabwe have provided some of the greatest shocks on the world stage over the years in both the 50-over format and Twenty20.
Can they add to this list of prized scalps in this year’s World T20 in India?
Fletcher fires to down Aussies
Playing their first match in their first ever World Cup in 1983, Zimbabwe did the unthinkable, beating Australia by 13 runs at Trent Bridge. Future Ashes-winning England head coach, but Zimbabwe captain at the time, Duncan Fletcher, struck 69 from 84 balls as Zimbabwe admirably negotiated an imposing Aussie attack of Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson and Geoff Lawson – losing only two wickets to the trio’s combined 34 overs – to post 239-6 from their 60 overs.
Fletcher backed-up his batting exploits with 4-42 with the ball, his wickets accounting for four of Australia’s top five batsmen. The only one he didn’t dismiss, Kepler Wessels, struck 76 and Rod Marsh hit an unbeaten 50, but it wasn’t enough, with Australia finishing on 226-7. A week later at the old County Ground in Southampton, Australia earned revenge, beating Zimbabwe by 32 runs, although 84 from another familiar name in cricket coaching in England since, Dave Houghton, saw Zimbabwe come close to repeating the trick.
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England edged out in low-scorer
Houghton would have a small role to play in another of Zimbabwe’s greatest upsets as they beat England by nine runs in the 1992 World Cup. This result was all the more surprising given the form of the two sides going into the game. Admittedly England had just suffered a heavy seven-wicket defeat to New Zealand in their last outing, but that was in a clash of the tournament’s two unbeaten teams after the first six games, while Zimbabwe were winless and hadn’t passed a score of 200 in their previous five contests.
The trend continued as Zimbabwe could only muster a score of 134 from their 46.1 overs, with captain Houghton earning the dubious honour of top-scoring with 29 – Ian Botham (3-23) and Richard Illingworth (3-33) sharing three wickets apiece. The warning signs were there when Graham Gooch fell first ball lbw to Eddo Brandes (4-21), the first of four strikes for him as England slipped to 43-5. Alec Stewart (29) and Neil Fairbrother (20) seemed to have steadied the ship, putting on 52 together, but another collapse came as the final five wickets fell for 30 runs. England would recover to reach the final, but lost out to Pakistan.
Zimbabwe steal Super Six spot
England would come a cropper again thanks to Zimbabwe in 1999, suffering an embarrassing group stage exit at their home World Cup. While England won the solitary meeting between the two sides by seven wickets, Zimbabwe’s terrific form in the tournament, securing wins over Kenya, India and most crucially South Africa, saw them qualify for the Super Six stage at England’s expense.
Defeat for England against India in their final group game could still have sent them through provided the unbeaten-at-the-time South Africa got the better of Zimbabwe. But a Neil Johnson-inspired Zimbabwe won by 48 runs and England ultimately crumbled to a 63-run defeat the following day to dump them out. Johnson – opening the batting – struck 76 as Zimbabwe scored 233-6 in their 50 overs, before taking Gary Kirsten’s wicket first ball and picking up 3-27 opening the bowling. He and Heath Streak (3-35) tore through the Proteas top order, reducing them to 40-6, and while scores of 52 for both Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener briefly threatened their superiority, Zimbabwe ultimately secured a comfortable win and advanced to the next stage of a World Cup for the first time.
Taylor’s T20 triumph
Responsible for the first ever 50-over upset, Zimbabwe repeated the trick in T20 cricket, once again besting Australia. At the first ever World T20 in South Africa in 2007, Zimbabwe played an Australia side accused of not taking the newest format of the game seriously enough. They had been involved in the first ever international T20 against New Zealand, but it was a game with retro 1980’s kits, outmoded facial hair and a mock underarm delivery by Glenn McGrath. And in the second ever T20I, the Aussies were hammered by 100 runs by England in Southampton before the 2005 Ashes. Any excuse to bring that up…
But still, this was an Australian side sporting the likes of Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, and was expected to see off Zimbabwe with relative ease. Not so, those three were dismissed inside the first four overs as seamers Elton Chigumbura (3-20) and Gary Brent (2-19) ran through Australia, reducing them to 138-9. The run-chase was a tense affair with Zimbabwe on 75-4 just past the midway mark when rain interrupted proceedings, but a nerveless 60 from 45 balls by Brendan Taylor saw the side home with one ball to spare.
Taylor tonks back-to-back tons
Talking of Taylor, the 2015 World Cup is hardly worth including in this list but for back-to-back hundreds by the now-Nottinghamshire batsman. It certainly can’t be classed as a triumphant tournament for Zimbabwe, with five defeats from their six games – only a win over the UAE to their name – consigning them to another early exit. But other than a blistering 138-ball double hundred by Chris Gayle against them, Zimbabwe were never embarrassed. In fact, well-placed at 128-3 chasing just 236 to beat Pakistan, they should have added a second triumph to their tally.
On top of that, Taylor had a highly impressive tournament – hitting 121 off 91 balls in a five-run defeat to Ireland and an even classier 138 off 110 against India in another losing cause. Taylor’s one-day average improves from 34.82 to 46.00 in tournament play, but his India effort was his last international knock, with the 30-year-old batsman moving to England to continue his career in county cricket. His skills will be sorely missed by Zimbabwe at the World T20.