THE Zimbabwe national cricket team yesterday restored some of its pride, battered by a poor run of results which included a series loss against lightweights Afghanistan, with an impressive performance that helped the Chevrons square the four-match Twenty20 International series against Bangladesh in Khulna.
Having been down 0-2 in the first two matches, including a huge 42-run whipping in the second game, the Chevrons appeared set for another mauling at the hands of the Tigers, but a never-say-die attitude saw them stage a stunning fight-back to win the last two matches and ensure that the series ended in a draw.
The Chevrons’ recent poor performances had dampened the spirits of their fans leading to one group of the supporters even writing a letter of protest, which was published in this newspaper, and demanding changes in the team and apologies from captain Elton Chigumbura and coach Dav Whatmore.
There is a reason why the Chevrons are a special team in this country and, why, when they come short, as has been the case in recent months, there is usually a national outcry.
This is the only sport where we have always derived a lot of pride, as a country, that we are one of the 10 strongest nations in the world and, given that we are just a small country of 14 million people, it has been a source of national pride.
Just knowing that we are the second best team in Africa, only South Africa are more powerful than us when it comes to this game, and knowing that among all the countries that play cricket in the world, we are one of only 10 nations deemed good enough to play on the Test arena, has always been a source of national pride.
And, of course, this is a team which raises our flag, regularly, on the World Cup stage, battling against the best that the world can offer, and that, too, has always been a source of national pride, just seeing our boys, in our colours, taking on the greatest players that this game can offer, has always felt very, very special.
Against that background, it is understandable that when the Chevrons lose their way, as has been the case in the last few months, the whole nation, including people who are not ordinarily cricket fans, ask some tough questions.
Even the Government, through Sport and Recreation Minister, Makhosini Hlongwane, said recently that the performance of the Chevrons — in recent months — was unacceptable and there was need for a change of results from the field.
To their credit, the Zimbabwe Cricket leadership responded by hiring former Sri Lanka great, Marvan Atapattu, to work with the team as a batting consultant, during the tour of Bangladesh, with the possibility of tying up a long-term deal with him at the end of the tour. Atapattu’s influence has been there for everyone to see and, since his arrival, our batsmen have played with confidence and style with Hamilton Masakadza and Vusi Sibanda leading the way and their contributions up the order have been pivotal in the stunning turnaround of fortunes.
Critics might dismiss this as just two victories against fellow minnows Bangladesh but those who know the game very well will tell you that the Tigers, in their den, are a dangerous side and last year they beat Pakistan in all four ODIs, drew the two-match Test series, drew a Test against India and then beat the Indians 2-1 in the ODI series.
They also beat South Africa 2-1 in an ODI series, while drawing the two-match Test showdown, while the Tigers qualified for the quarter-finals of the ICC Cricket World Cup and will be one of the eight teams to play in the ICC Champions Trophy in England.
What has been refreshing about the Bangladesh tour is that the selectors, too, have invested their trust in a number of players who, normally, don’t play in the team and while the veterans like Hamilton and Vusi have been impressive, the contributions of the youngsters like Luke Jongwe, who is only 20, have been crucial.
Neville Madziva, PJ Moor and Wellington Masakadza are all young players who made their debut in the past few months and their presence in the team provides the hope that our future could be secure and it was refreshing to see Madziva and Tendai Chisoro, who only made his ODI debut against Afghanistan in October last year, reducing Bangladesh to 17-4 yesterday as they shattered the Tigers’ top order by picking two wickets each.
The arrival of Makhaya Ntini, the former South African paceman, as the bowling coach, next month, will only help our young bowlers and they know that if they can do it on the tracks of Bangladesh, then they can do it anywhere.
Hopefully, our national football team, the Warriors, can draw inspiration from the way that the Chevrons have battled the odds, coming down from 0-2 to share the series and the trophy in Bangladesh, when they take on Mali in a 2016 CHAN Group D match today which we need to win to remain in the competition following our heartbreaking loss to Zambia in the first game.
We didn’t deserve that loss against Chipolopolo, we were the better team, but in this game if you don’t take your chances, and we had many clear-cut chances to triumph, you always reap nothing and, hopefully, coach Callisto Pasuwa and his backroom staff have sharpened our strikeforce and, for the second day running, sports fans in this country will be smiling again.
Sport is key because it cheers the spirits of the nation and we challenge our footballers to take a leaf from the cricketers and fight for a victory that we badly need.