It seemed like just another day under the scorching sun at Sharjah in mid-November of 1998.
Zimbabwe batted first and posted a mediocre 205/7, which seemed like a cakewalk when India scored 10 of the first over. Little did one know then they were in for something special from someone who had become a popular household name in the neighbourhood, both due to his unusual name and unconventional hairdo?
Henry Olonga rocked the Indian top order, the damage from which they couldn’t recover and eventually went on to lose the game.
Although Olonga and team had to pay a heavy prize in the finals, as the Tendulkar blitzkrieg hit Sharjah once again. This performance I think sparked a sense of belief and optimism within the team to perform well on a consistent basis. Not like they were ever short on the promise earlier, Zimbabwe was always considered to be a terrific fielding unit but notable all-round performances came few and far in between in the 80s and 90s.
Zimbabwe was and still is the only country not to lose in its debut test match, which they drew against India in 1992-93. Their first great triumph came against England in 1995 where they whitewashed a much stronger England side in the One-Day series and drew both the Tests.
But it was 1998 where glimpses through performances like this one at Sharjah, then going on to beat Pakistan in their own backyard in a months’ time, and further continuing their great run through the 1999 world cup showcased immaculate consistency which came about through display of some incredible talent coupled with exceptional teamwork.
That’s something that never got restored since the debacle of Zimbabwe cricket began from the onset of from 2004-05, exacerbated by the political scenario in the country.
Now with cricket finally finding its feet once again in Zimbabwe, we see flashes of the early and mid-nineties again. Sparks of individual flashes of brilliance from players who have been around for a while is a common phenomenon at home and on tours. Brendon Taylor, their most prolific run-getter in recent times comes is no stranger to anyone.
Taylor has often stood up in critical times for his team with little or no support from the rest of the batting. He’s reminded us of the 90s where Brain Lara and Tendulkar did most of the scoring for their respective sides with little or no support from the rest. But even then, nothing was close to the disarray that Zimbabwe’s current cricket finds itself in. Thankfully, the Flower brothers consistently scored runs through the 90s without too many victories under their belt due to lack of support from the other end.
Graeme Cremer at his best sometimes reminds you of Paul Strang, who perhaps was the most consistent leg-spinner Zimbabwe has ever produced. Batting all-rounders Sikandar Raza and Sean Williams’ skills might not be as sophisticated as that of Guy Whittall or Neil Johnson but their grit and never-say-die spirit is certainly reminiscent of all-rounders like Douglas Marillier or Travis Friend, whereas bowling all-rounders Malcolm Waller and Elton Chigumbura have proved that they can definitely use the long handle like a Heath Streak or Andy Blignaut did, when required.
Also where on one hand left-handed Craig Ervine often reminds us of brother Sean or Alistair Campbell with his classy stroke-play, Solomon Mire hits the ball as hard as once Craig Wishart did at the top of the order. Zimbabwe also seems to have a good battery of fast bowlers who could trouble the best of batting line-ups on their day.
And with the experienced Brighton Masakadza as the captain and Lalchand Rajput who knows how to win cricket matches as coach, the team certainly possesses potential to bring back lost glory. The only two things seem to lack, which were the backbone during the so-called golden period of Zimbabwe cricket are the belief in themselves as a team and moulding that belief into performances consistently as a team.
Cricket followers around the world feel the urge for teams to get back to their best again, and Zimbabwe is certainly one of them they are looking to turn the tables once again like they did exactly two decades ago.