Little Zim Rules World Cricket


Harare – Zimbabwe Cricket might be in the intensive care unit right now ‑ weighed down by financial challenges that have frozen the domestic season ‑ but, even against that depressing background, the country continues to make a huge impact in the game around the world.

The Zimbabwe Cricket authorities have been struggling to keep their boat afloat, in stormy waters that have pounded their vessel for some time now, and find themselves in a very difficult environment without funds to run their domestic league.

But, for all the woes bedeviling Zimbabwe Cricket, the country continues to make its presence felt, in the international game around the globe, and the battle between the world’s top-ranked Test cricket nations – India and South Africa – and the Ashes showdown Down Under, had a distinct Zimbabwean flavour.

The two-Test series between South Africa and India was a heavyweight contest, featuring the world’s top-two ranked nations, which the Proteas won 1-0 after two titanic battles in Johannesburg and Durban.

That contest will always be remembered as Jacques Kallis’ swansong, after South Africa’s master all-rounder, one of the finest cricketers to ever grace the game, waved farewell to the sport.

The sound-bite to that battle was provided by two voices with Zimbabwean roots with Mpumelelo Mbangwa and Robin Jackman the main voices on SuperSport’s television coverage.

Mbangwa played 15 Tests and 29 ODIs for Zimbabwe before, after being dropped from the touring party of the national team for the 2002 Champions Trophy, he decided to quit the game, at the age of 29, and turned to television commentary.

He has become the main anchor of SuperSport’s cricket coverage at a time when the channel has just rolled out a 24-hour dedicated channel for the sport that will run until the end of the 2014 ICC World Cup Twenty20 in Bangladesh in April.

The dedicated channel, on SuperSport2 and SuperSport2 HD, was used to cover the duel between South Africa and India and also the Ashes battle Down Under.

The first Test at the Wanderers ended in a nail-biting draw with South Africa, at the very end, resisting the temptation to go out for a tricky win in the final overs of the match and, in the process, chose not to walk into the history books by chasing the highest fourth innings total for a Test victory.

“The roller-coaster ride that was the Wanderers Test match between South Africa and India was just unbelievable as a spectacle and showed all those that watched proceedings that, right to the very end, one just has no idea what would happen.,” Mbangwa said on his blog on the SuperSport website.

“There are many who, after going on that ride and having their emotions tugged to and fro along with the jangling of nerves, felt rather disappointed that what they had in mind did not happen in the end.

“The feeling in the stadium was that the Proteas should have continued to go for a win, thereby potentially making history by chasing down the highest score ever set. The Proteas saw it another way. They shut up shop with three overs to go and made sure that they would not lose.

“I wonder if we will ever see another Test match like that. Some already have it down as the greatest drawn Test match ever.”

Jackman, the grumpy-voiced authority who provides the backing sound to Mbangwa’s cricket commentary, has charmed a lot of hearts by his return to the studio as he continues his battle against throat cancer that bowled him out of tour when the Proteas last toured Down Under.

Born in England, Jackman played for the then Rhodesia national team between 1972 and 1973 and returned again to play for the country between 1979 and 1980.

He was one of the Wisden Cricketers of the Year in 1981 after taking 121 first-class wickets during that year.

But Zimbabwe’s influence in the battle of the world’s top two ranked nations wasn’t only limited to the studio.

India might be the world’s biggest cricket nation, with more than a billion people who worship this game to pick their team from, but even such a giant needs a coaching team from little Zimbabwe.

Duncan Fletcher, who first made his big international breakthrough as a coach with England by becoming the first coach to guide that country to an Ashes triumph in 18 years with a 2-1 win over Australia in 2005, was the man guiding the Indians.

Fletcher captained Zimbabwe at the nation’s inaugural appearance at the ICC World Cup in England in 1983.

He is not the only Zimbabwean in that Indian dressing room, as he has also recruited Trevor Penney as the fielding coach of the mighty Indians.

Penney was born in Harare in June 1968 and played for Mashonaland and Mashonaland A between 1993 and 2001.

While the loss in South Africa hasn’t caused tremors in the Indian dressing room, England have been reeling since a humiliating 0-5 defeat at the hands of old enemy Australia that handed the Ashes urn to the men from Down Under.

Andy Flower, the Zimbabwean in charge of the England dressing room, has seen his position being questioned, in recent weeks, following that humiliation.

Flower, widely regarded as Zimbabwe’s finest batsmen of all-time, has refused to throw in the towel despite indicating that England’s whitewash defeat was the end of an era. “I'm proud of my involvement with England cricket and I'm very proud of the results over the many years we've all been working together.

“I think it's important that we review this logically and learn from some of the mistakes we've made and ensure that we get English cricket moving in the right direction again.”

“Well there aren't many Tests in between now and the next Ashes in 2015, but there is five months between now and the next Test series that England play.”

While Flower returned to England, after the Ashes capitulation, it did not end Zimbabwe’s influence in the battle going Down Under with Gary Ballance, the highly-rated 24-year-old batsman, being given a run the English side’s first ODI tie against the Aussies.

Balance played for Zimbabwe at the 2006 Under-19 World Cup, when he was just 16, and took three wickets and top-scored in a sensational victory over England.

On Sunday he walked onto the Melbourne Cricket Ground pitch, in England’s colours, and top-scored for the visitors as they crashed to defeat in their first ODI.

January 2014
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