The fascinating tale of Zim cricket’s giant-killing show

By Robson Sharuko

HARARE – Exactly 16 years ago, they stood in different trenches as they fired waves of artillery at each other, and it was also the last year Zimbabwe’s cricketers last tasted success in an away series against a top eight cricket nation.

That is, until on Monday when the same rival forces, back then, combined forces to write one of cricket’s finest success stories as Zimbabwe stunned Sri Lanka in their backyard to seal a One Day International series triumph that has charmed the globe.

Simply put, it was made in Southern Africa and delivered in Sri Lanka.

Hamilton Masakadza, who at 17 years made history by becoming the youngster cricketer to score a century on Test debut for Zimbabwe in a match against the West Indies, in Harare on July 27, 2001, top-scored for the Chevrons in the decisive fifth ODI against Sri Lanka in Hambantota on Monday with 73 runs.

Now just a month short of his 34th birthday, the opening batsman turned on the style with a show as he laid a solid foundation for Zimbabwe to successfully chase Sri Lanka’s 204-7 with three wickets in hand to seal an history triumph that reverberated around the world.

ESPNCricinfo Sri Lanka correspondent, Andrew Fidel Fernando, described it as “one of Zimbabwe cricket’s finest moments,’’ while others said it rivalled the country’s historic victory over Australia at the 1983 World Cup in England.

It meant Zimbabwe ended 16 years of waiting for a series victory over a world’s top eight cricket side and this was the first time in eight years for the Chevrons, who went to Scotland and the Netherlands to prepare for the tour of Sri Lanka, had won a series win away from home.

Sri Lanka had been Zimbabwe’s bogey side in cricket, the one nation the Chevrons simply couldn’t beat, and for the Zimbabweans to go to the Asian nation to not only win three out of five ODI matches but, even become the first country to successfully chase 300 in an ODI in Sri Lanka, was simply incredible.

“They came to Sri Lanka ranked 11th, having been defeated by Scotland in the previous month, and having lost a series to Afghanistan earlier in the year,’’ Fernando, the Sri Lanka correspondent for ESPNCricinfo, noted.

“But bowling with venom, fielding with pep, and batting with intelligence, helped Zimbabwe win the deciding fifth ODI by three wickets in Hambantota, and stun the hosts 3-2.

“It is their first away series victory since 2009, and one of Zimbabwe cricket’s finest moments ever.’’

But how did the Chevrons turn it all around?

There is no doubt that Heath Streak’s appointment as national team coach last year has been crucial in the team’s transformation.

Streak impressed during his apprenticeship as a bowling coach for Bangladesh and in the Indian Premier League and, as a former captain of the Chevrons, he is a man who knows the team very well.

He has been working in tandem with two South Africans, bowling Coach Makhaya Ntini and batting coach Lance “Zulu” Klusener, in his mission to not only strengthen the Chevrons but, crucially, help them qualify for the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup.

The irony of it all is that, just 16 years ago, when Zimbabwe last won a series against a top eight cricket nation, Streak and his lieutenants were in opposite trenches as they battled for supremacy on the cricket field.

Masakadza, then just a raw diamond that had just exploded on the scene, was also in those trenches.

In September 2001 at Harare Sports Club, Zimbabwe hosted South Africa in a Test match dominated by Gary Kirsten’s double century, Herschelle Gibbs’ 147 and Jacques Kallis’ 157 as the Proteas batted first and posted 600-3 declared.

Klusener scored an unbeaten eight while Ntini didn’t bat while Streak, captaining the Zimbabwe team, went wicket-less in his 34 overs with figures of 0-120.

In reply Zimbabwe posted 286 in their first innings with Andy Flower scoring 142 and Dion Ebrahim scoring 71 while Streak went for seven and Masakadza was run out for 13 with Ntini going wicket-less in his 13 overs (0-60).

In their second innings, Zimbabwe were dismissed for 391 with Andy Flower, again, leading the charge with an unbeaten 199 while Masakadza scored 85 and Streak chipped in with 19 runs while Ntini took 1-48 and Klusener took 2-50.

South Africa reached their target with the loss of just one wicket.

In the second Test in Bulawayo, Streak scored 13 and Masakadza 13 in Zimbabwe’s total of 419 in their first innings with Ntini once again going wicket-less (0-68) while Klusener took 1-89 before South Africa, trying to force a result, accelerated top 519-8 declared with Streak returning figures of 0-64.

Zimbabwe reached 96-3 in their second innings with both Klusener and Ntini going wicket-less in that innings as the match ended in a draw.

Now, Streak, Ntini, Klusener and Masakadza are in one camp and, on Monday, they combined to write one of cricket’s finest success stories.

“I’ve worked on a lot of plans with the batting coach (Klusener) and it’s paid off,’’ Masakadza, who was named man-of-the-series, said at the post match presentation ceremony.

“Worked on the sweep quite a lot before coming here.’’

Klusener said his men had been putting in hours of work and were now being rewarded for their efforts.

“They have put in a lot of work and they have executed brilliantly. They have come a long way in the last six months and all credit to the boys for a series win,’’ he said.

“We are really going to enjoy today and then think about the Test match. The boys have reaped the rewards and we are going to celebrate enough.”

It has been a good month, so far, for Zimbabwean cricketers with former captain Brendan Taylor helping his English county side Nottinghamshire to victory in the Royal London Cup final after beating a Surrey team that featured Sam and Tom Curran, the two sons of former Zimbabwe cricketer and Coach Kevin Curran.

And Taylor congratulated the Chevrons for their success in Sri Lanka.

“18 hours travelling back home for a week to see the @ZimCricketv boys pulled off a series win against @OfficialSLC. Congrats all. #proudzimbo,’’ he tweeted.

While former South African all-rounder Robin Peterson, who retired from cricket last year, also tweeted, “Congrats Makhaya Ntini and @ZimCricketv on a historic series win vs Sri Lanka.’’

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