Thirty years later, it still feels special
IT was one of sport’s finest years — invited guests, Denmark, won Euro ’92, the US Dream Team illuminated the Barcelona Olympics and Riddick Bowe beat Evander Holyfield to win the undisputed world heavyweight boxing title.
A 13-year-old Chinese diver, Fu Mingxia, became the youngest gold medal winner as the Olympics opened its doors to welcome the return of South Africa, after a 32-year absence.
And, a 16-year-old golfer, Tiger Woods, made his debut, becoming the youngest player to feature on the PGA Tour, laying the foundation for a career which will eventually be decorated in gold. It was also the year Nick Price won the first of his three Major golf titles, by capturing the US PGA Championships, in Missouri. And, for the first time, in the history of the Cricket World Cup, coloured clothing, white balls and floodlit matches were introduced.
Test cricket welcomed its ninth member, exactly 115 years after the first Test, between England and the Combined Australia XI, was played in Melbourne, with the hosts winning by 45 runs.
Zimbabwe, with a population of just about 11 million, entered into the league of the game’s Big Boys to join eight other elite nations — Australia, England, South Africa, West Indies, New Zealand, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
India, marking the 40th anniversary of their admission into the Test arena, were the first opponents to tour Harare, for Zimbabwe’s inaugural Test, between October 18-22, 1992.
This year marks 30 years since Zimbabwe came of age, and made the huge leap into the exclusive world of Test cricket. It’s a brutal arena and, at one point, the local authorities were forced to take a voluntary break from Test cricket, after it became clear the Chevrons could not compete at this level.
But that was then and this is now.
In recent weeks, there have been signs of a mini-revival, for the Chevrons, with deserved victories in ODI and Twenty20I series against Bangladesh. The resurgence, if it can be called that, has coincided with the return of Dave Houghton, a veteran of the local game, into the team’s structures as the head coach.
This week, the Indians are back in town, even though they are only here for an ODI series, it’s hard for Houghton not to get the feeling that, in a way, this probably feels like 1992. Even the excitement, among the fans, is a throwback to those days when the Chevrons, for the first time in their history, could call themselves a Test team.
As fate would have it, Houghton was not only the captain of that Chevrons side but he starred in that Test match, scoring a century on debut (121) off 322 balls, in which his shots visited the boundary 15 times.
The match ended in a draw but Houghton is still being remembered and, in a way, celebrated for:
Being the only cricketer to score a century on Test debut, as the captain of the team in his team’s debut Test match.
Holding the distinction of being the first Zimbabwean to score a Test century.
Becoming, at the age of 35 years, and four months, the oldest debutant to score a Test century even though his record would be broken by Adam Voges of Australia (35 years, eight months).
Leading the Class of ’92, which did not lose their first wicket, until the opening pair of Kevin Arnott (40) and Grant Flower (82), reached an impressive century partnership.
The way he managed the workload of spinner John Traicos who ended with a five-wicket haul with impressive figures of 5-86 in India’s score of 307.
This is also the 30th anniversary of the year Houghton captained his country, at the ’92 Cricket World Cup. Two years later, he scored the highest Test score by a Zimbabwean, with his double century (266) against Sri Lanka, in a marathon shift lasting 11 hours and 90 overs.
Houghton turned 65 in June and this year marks exactly 25 years since he announced his retirement, from all forms of cricket, in December 1997.
He was 40.
Fate couldn’t have scripted it any better.
That the man, who was the captain of the Chevrons, in their very first Test match, which ended in a draw, against India, should be the man in charge of the team, as a coach, on the occasion of the Indians return, in a year the two teams are marking the 30th anniversary of that landmark match.
Especially, in a period where the home team are showing signs of revival, after a period in which the Chevrons had lost their way, ironically, under the guidance of an Indian coach, Lalchand Rajput.
Since that landmark Test battle, 30 years ago, the Indians have become Zimbabwe Cricket’s best friends, rallying behind us, in the tough world of the politics of the game.
They have also provided us with some of our best moments in the game, notably during the 1999 ICC World Cup when Henry Olonga took three wickets, in one over, as the Chevrons beat the Indians by three runs in Leicester, England.
When the two sides meet again, from tomorrow, the Chevrons will be hoping the giant-killing spirit of ’92 in sport, which even saw invited guests Denmark winning the Euros, will sweep through Harare Sports Club.
With the three ODI matches also acting as ICC World Cup qualifiers, Houghton will probably feel like it’s a return to ’92, when he captained his country at the ODI global show-piece, in Australia.
And, as fate would have it, Zimbabwe and India played each other at that World Cup. That match was disrupted by rain during the Chevrons chase.
There is no chance of that happening this time around.