"Hopefully we will get more support from our people back home and all round the world as well."
These were the words of Zimbabwe's opener, Solomon Mire, after his match-winning effort against Sri Lanka in the series opener at Galle. The young man had reason to believe otherwise. The fortunes of this talented big-hitter changed after he emigrated to Australia. His exploits for Victoria U-23 and elevation to Big Bash as community player prompted Zimbabwe to pick him and the rest is history.
Buried in turmoil and struck by controversy, Zimbabwe cricket has endured their worst in the 21st century. If the departure of their best products, the Flower brothers, weren't enough, they had to watch a plethora of their most talented cricketers rush away to England.
Given the depleted resources at their disposal and pitiful performances they have put in, it is a surprise that Zimbabwe are still in the big league with a Test status. That they have been woeful is commonly agreed but there are evidences to cite that a change is around the corner.
Performances from 2011 World Cup to 2015 World Cup
Between the 2011 and 2015 World Cups, Zimbabwe suffered their worst with player retention becoming a heavy work and their best XI proving to be pushovers for other international teams. To put things into perspective, they won just 11 games out of 50 ODIs competed in the four years, with only major victories coming at home against New Zealand, Pakistan and Australia.
Their win/loss ratio in ODIs during this period is an abominable 0.282, worse than the likes of Afghanistan, Ireland, Scotland, Netherlands, UAE, Papua New Guinea and even Kenya. For a team that loves competing against the best, this bit of stat is pathetic to say the least.
Their best batsman during this period, Brendan Taylor, departed after the 2015 World Cup further pushing the country's cricket into gloominess. Taylor and Hamilton Masakadza were the only two players to score above 1000 runs in the four-year duration. In fact, Taylor, Masakadza and Elton Chigumbura were the only three players to feature in more than 40 games out of the 50 ODIs played during the period, a sign of inconsistent selections.
The period after the 2015 World Cup
Settling under a captain and boasting consistent selections is not something Zimbabwe are known for. Yet with Heath Streak as coach, Graeme Cremer was thrust with captaincy and has done exceptionally well for Zimbabwe in the past year. Since the 2015 World Cup, Zimbabwe have played 47 ODIs, winning 14 with a win/loss ratio of 0.466, better than the likes of Ireland and West Indies.
They have improved with their selection as well, with six players figuring in more than 30 of the 47 matches played. With 39 wickets in 37 matches, Cremer leads the way in the bowling chart but his influence has been profound across formats.
In the first Test at Harare against Sri Lanka last year, coming at no 8, Cremer cracked a fine century. It was an effort that helped Zimbabwe to avoid follow-on. In the second innings, he went on to play out 144 balls in order avert a defeat. Although his efforts were in vain, Zimbabwe now had a leader, someone to guide and lead them from the front.
Buoyed by their improvement in the Test series, Zimbabwe brushed aside West Indies to race into the finals of a Tri-Series in 2016, but they lost against Sri Lanka. But again, the signs were much better for a depleted outfit.
The collective effort
In 2017 June, they arrived in Sri Lanka with a record of seven wins in 50 ODIs against the Island Nation. Few gave them a chance. Even fewer watched games, but Zimbabwe chased down 316 in the series opener to announce their arrival in style. Another 300+ score followed in the third ODI although that resulted in a loss but they levelled the series in Hambantota with a come from behind victory.
— Brendan Taylor (@BrendanTaylor86) July 8, 2017
If it was Sean Williams and Sikander Raza in the first ODI, it was Sean Ervine in the fourth and Solomon Mire was a common successful factor in both these games.
No team had chased down 300-plus totals in Sri Lanka when the hosts made 316 in the first ODI. With all odds against them, Zimbabwe put in a praiseworthy effort that saw them emerge victorious. In the third ODI, they further scaled the 300-mark although this time they lost. In the fourth ODI in Hambantota, Zimbabwe looked out of sorts as Niroshan Dickwella and Danushka Gunathilaka, once again, slammed them to all corners of the park.
But in the final few overs, they came back into the game and restricted Sri Lanka to 300, a decent effort given that Lanka were 215/1 in the 38th over. Mire, Ervine and Waller then aced a Duckworth-Lewis target of 219 in 31 overs with two overs to spare.
With the series being level at 2-2, Zimbabwe had shown the world that they still belong. The effort in this series has been remarkable from a team that had last scored a total in excess of 300 in 2015. More than the sheer numbers, it is the manner in which Zimbabwe has fought that deserves the praise. A few years back, a 300+ total against them resulted in a 'game over' situaton but the spirit of this rejuvenated outfit in a country they are touring for the first time in 15 years is exceptional.
All signs do not point to a Zimbabwean renaissance but with Ireland and Afghanistan gaining Test status, Zimbabwe need to punch above their weight to stay in the big league, and they are giving it their best shot. The two newly elevated sides have proven to be as good or better than Zimbabwe in recent years, something which stands against the African nation if ICC decide to cut short the number of countries playing Tests.
If they can manage to translate their ever bettering ODI performances to Test cricket and compete around the globe, Zimbabwe might just re-emerge from the ashes. That they have Heath Streak, a man who understands the nuances of Zimbabwean cricket, as head coach, a strong skipper in Graeme Cremer and fantastic batting and bowling coaches in South Africans, Lance Klusener and Makhaya Ntini, stand them in good stead. If they need a second coming it has to start under this group and the indications are that a revival has already begun.