Zimbabwe shocked their opponents, and the rest of the cricket world by defeating Sri Lanka in the fifth and final ODI to claim the series 3-2. Even more impressively they did it on Sri Lankan soil. The world’s 10th ranked ODI team overcame a Lions side which barely a month ago defeated India in the Champions Trophy who later went on to reach the final.
Zimbabwean cricket has been in turmoil for as long as many cricket fans can remember, and most of the woes have been self-inflicted. Issues have ranged from government interference and the political situation in the country, to poor management by the cricket board, and a player exodus to greener pastures – both for better pay and security, as well as to escape the hardship of life in the African nation.
Since the country’s golden generation, which included Heath Streak and the Flower brothers, the national team has struggled on and off the field. Arguably the darkest days for Zimbabwean cricket were only a few months ago when they lost an ODI series 2-3 to Afghanistan at home. Since then, Afghanistan have been granted a Full Member status, and it began to seem the time they will surpass Zimbabwe as a cricketing nation wasn't too far.
Little did anyone expect this Zimbabwean side would go to Sri Lanka and defeat a team that were ranked sixth in the world as recently as the start of the Champions Trophy. But they did, and perhaps, just perhaps, there is light at the end of what has been a very long and dark tunnel. It had been 16 long years since Zimbabwe had beaten a top eight side, this was their first triumph in a five-match series away from home and their first away series victory since they defeated Kenya in 2009. These are just a few of the records they have broken which show how remarkable an achievement their victory is.
Throughout what was a hard-fought series, Zimbabwe showed their pluckiness and plenty of skill, particularly in the way they chased down 316 in the first match of the series and continued to chase well in their other two victories. They also displayed immense resilience and courage to fight back from going down 2-1 to the hosts to claw their way back and win the series.
While it is too early to say whether this is the beginning of the resurgence of Zimbabwean cricket, and they face a stiff Test in the one-off Test match against a host whose pride has been dented, they might just be building the foundations of a competitive side once again.
Former captain Streak has returned to the fold as head coach, and formed a solid leadership partnership with captain Graeme Cremer. The likes of Sikander Raza and Solomon Mire, along with veterans Sean Williams and Hamilton Masakadza all showed great signs against Sri Lanka, with Masakadza being named player of the series. It is imperative that Streak and his team must now build on this stunning series victory and show real, consistent improvement.
The series victory is not only a real boost for Zimbabwean cricket but also for world cricket, especially in light of Afghanistan and Ireland's elevation to Full Members, and Scotland’s recent win over Sri Lanka, albeit in an unofficial ODI. The game of cricket is better and stronger when the smaller nations are competitive, and this is how the game will continue to grow.
Afghanistan and Ireland have shown for years now that they are capable of punching above their weight, Bangladesh are now a competitive side, especially at home, and Zimbabwe have just knocked off Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka, a challenge that has proven difficult for even the best of teams.
Real fans of the game will hope that Afghanistan and Ireland continue to rise and get the opportunity to play more ODI cricket, and some Test matches against the big boys of world cricket. Cricket lovers will hope that this series victory provides the boost that cricket in Zimbabwe so desperately needs and the next generation of players from the southern African nation can surpass the accomplishments of Streak, Flower and Co.
Cricket is an unpredictable game, and the recent upsets and shock results show that on their day even the smallest David can defeat the most ominous Goliath. It is for this reason that the ICC’s insistence on restricting its showpiece event, the World Cup, to just ten teams is ridiculous.
At a time when there are now 12 Full Member nations, and at a time when they should be doing their utmost to expand and grow the game, the governing body instead wants to limit and restrict the game’s biggest tournament. The World Cup should feature at least 12 teams, if not 14 teams, to give the likes of Scotland and the Netherlands the opportunity to one day join Afghanistan and Ireland among the elite of the game.
If the newest Full Members and the Associate nations are forgotten about, and Zimbabwe and the West Indies are allowed to fade away into obscurity the game of cricket will be poorer, and no longer will we see such inspiring and uplifting underdog victories as we have just witnessed in Sri Lanka.
After years of hardship and heartache Zimbabwe have given themselves a glimmer of hope, and in doing so they have shown that any team can defy the odds – a great sign for all the underdogs of world cricket. Let’s hope the ICC takes note.