The Day David Slayed Goliath
Harare – For 10 years the Australian cricketers were kept away from Zimbabwe by their politicians but, on their return to this country, the men from Down Under crashed to a humbling defeat that shook the world.
Some of the Aussie players found refuge in the smoke of their cigarettes, outside their dressing room at Harare Sports Club on Sunday, as the world celebrated a milestone victory for minnows Zimbabwe, against the Goliath that Australia represent in world cricket, in a One Day International (ODI) that will now be part of this game’s folklore.
Suddenly, a trip that had largely been criticized as a “token tour” in Australia and belittled so much that only two Aussie cricket journalists chose to travel and cover it, was making headlines around the world and gate-crashing its way into the back pages of the Aussie newspapers.
After a seven-wicket defeat at the hands of a buoyant Zimbabwe, who played with tones of spirit, at Harare Sports Club, the men from Down Under had nowhere to hide in the spring African sunshine.
They had not only been dislodged from the top of the ICC world cricket ODI rankings, after their massive defeat at the hands of the Zimbabweans, but they had also lost their inspirational skipper, Michael Clarke, with the risk to rush him back into action backfiring terribly after he aggravated his hamstring strain as he tried to lead from the front.
“Just five months out from a home World Cup campaign, Australia’s stunning loss to Zimbabwe in the troubled African nation has raised questions about selection policies, team attitude and medical diagnosis after what was a shocking decision to recall Michael Clarke on the eve of a long campaign,” Jon Pierik, wrote in the Australian newspaper The Age on Monday.
The Aussies were savaged for their decision to treat the Zimbabweans, whom they had beaten by a massive 198 runs in the first match of the triangular series that also features South Africa at the same stadium, lightly by leaving pace spearhead Mitchell Johnson and all-rounder Steve Smith whose spin would have given their attack a weapon on a track that suited the slow bowlers.
The Sydney Morning Herald described Australia’s loss as a “humiliation” at the hands of “African minnows” and said the result marked the “most shambolic performance of the (coach) Darren Lehmann era.”
“After experiencing the high of momentous Test series wins over England and South Africa earlier this year, Australia has been given a sobering reality check about their batting deficiencies against spin and their fragile skipper’s long-term durability.
Clarke, one of only three of Australian players alive when the country last lost to Zimbabwe in an ODI has been ruled out of the rest of the tour after re-aggravating the left-hamstring which ruled him out of the first two matches.
But to concentrate on the Aussie deficiencies, for real or imagined, and not take a bow to the Zimbabweans, for a grand performance against the number one ranked team in the world, would be unfair if not diabolical in terms of assessment.
In their last match in the triangular, the feisty Zimbabweans had reduced South Africa’s powerful batting line-up to 195/9, with off-spinner Prosper Utseya capturing five wickets, including a sensational hattrick, before a last pair partnership saw the Proteas recover to post more than 200.
That proved a barrier too high for the Zimbabweans, whose batting failed them, when they looked to have thrust themselves into a good position to secure a sensational win over their Big Brother opponents.
“I think we are getting better and better as a team, it’s not a one day thing, it won’t happen overnight, but it’s a process and it needs a bit of time,” said new Zimbabwe coach Steve Mangongo.
But when you can beat the best team in the world, you know you are on the right track.
And, having been away from Zimbabwe for a decade, the Aussies, after their humiliation at Harare Sports Club, could be forgiven for feeling they would have been better off staying away.