Not many nations have burst onto the Test arena as Zimbabwe did. They came, they saw and they dominated India in their debut Test. A dream start looked likely but a fighting century from Sanjay Manjrekar stopped them in their tracks. After Dave Houghton elected to bat first at the Harare Sports Club, Kevin Arnott (40) and Grant Flower (82) gave Zimbabwe the perfect start with a 100-run stand and straightaway etched their names in record books with the highest opening partnership by a Test nation on debut.
Houghton (121) became the first Zimbabwe Test centurion as they posted a formidable 456 in the first innings, and the hosts soon had India reeling at 101/5, but Manjrekar was stolid and patient at the crease. He scored 104 runs off 422 balls, and built crucial partnerships with Kapil Dev and Kiran More to keep India afloat. More importantly, he consumed crucial time and that proved to be the difference as the match ended in a draw.
Zimbabwe were the ninth nation to enter Test cricket. In a few days' time, Afghanistan will become the 12th when they take on India at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru.
So what is it like playing in your country's first ever Test? Firstpost brings you some fascinating experiences from players who were part of their country's debut Test. Here is former Zimbabwe batsman Grant Flower sharing his experiences of Zimbabwe's first ever Test, the emotions he went through, the challenges and some advise for Afghanistan as they head towards history.
What was your experience of playing the first ever Test?
There were lot of nerves. Our coach John Hampshire just tried to get us to think about batting through sessions and playing to our strengths, in the nets. I didn't have many shots as an opener. I was looking to leave the ball a lot and try and let the Indian bowlers come to me. Just play ball by ball, over by over and break it down. It's a cliche but in those days that's the way we were taught by our coach. Our first-class cricket was very minimal then, we used to play two-day games, not even four-day games as warm-up in our league cricket. So there wasn't much to our structure but we had some good individual players with flair and we backed ourselves. We were competitive and came away with a good draw against India.
What was the feeling on the day of the Test?
Excitement and nerves, a bit of both. And that's a good thing because if there are few nerves going, you know you are in a battle. Good players usually rise to the occasion. They go with the challenge as opposed to fading away from the challenge. So it just depends on how you cope with that pressure. We tried and not put too much pressure on ourselves by saying things like we are going out to enjoy but you still got to try and break it down. So we got a decent score (456) on the board and we had a chance of even getting them follow-on but then Manjrekar played a brilliant innings which avoided the follow-on and it ended up being a really good match. It was a good start to our Test careers.
Did the stature of the opposition intimidate you?
Slightly. When you are playing against players like Kapil Dev, Manjrekar, etc, there are so many good players, yes definitely. But once you actually cross the line and are out there in the heat of battle, then your natural instincts take over and the nerves gradually fade. That's the nice thing about sport. There is so much overthinking that you can do off the field but once you are actually on the field then usually things fall into place.
What was the mindset of the team going into the Test?
Playing to our strengths. Keeping it basic. Getting the bowlers to bowl outside off and frustrate the Indian batsmen. And just to bat for long periods of time and frustrate the Indian bowlers. If we frustrated them then they would panic that they are not getting wickets and then we would get loose balls and they would start coming towards us and that's generally what happened. It turned into a very good match. Unfortunately, we couldn't come away with a win but it gave us a lot of confidence going into the future.
You had a brilliant start scoring 456 in the first innings, did the feeling creep in that you could even win the Test?
Once we had them a few wickets down overnight, yeah! There was a chance of getting them to follow-on. We definitely spoke about it and I think that's what winning teams and individuals do. They speak about the possibility of a win. If you are not thinking and talking like that then you shouldn't be out there.
When did the preparations for the Test begin?
Probably six months before. But like I said, our domestic cricket wasn't like proper first-class cricket you get now. We played two-day cricket to prepare; that's all we had. We had a hell lot of net-practice and were just trying to do the basics and be as fit as possible. There was a big onus on fitness. Our fitness trainer Malcolm Jarvis did a lot with us. So when we went onto the field, we knew that we were one of the fitter teams in world cricket.
What was the biggest challenge going into the Test?
Overcoming our own fears and the expectation from the public after being given the Test status. And now we actually had to perform. So there was a big realisation of that. Once we actually started playing, we saw that it was something that could be done and we weren't totally out of our depth and then gradually the confidence came through and the guys started expressing themselves. It was probably the expectation of what might happen or might not. But once we actually got on the field and played against India, things were better.
Personally, what were the emotions you were going through, throughout the Test?
Once I was batting, the nerves faded. I just took it ball by ball and thought I was on target for a hundred. I was very confident of getting a hundred. But that didn't happen (Flower got out on 82). However, I took away a lot of confidence from that game thinking that maybe I can compete at this level. It's an exciting feeling. I just enjoyed the fielding and being involved in the cauldron of international sport, playing against the best in the world, it was a great feeling.
Can you take us through that innings of 82?
I was just dealing with the swinging ball. Manoj Prabhakar was opening the bowling. The first few balls swung a lot and I thought, 'S**t! How am I going to cope with this?' But after a while, my feet started moving and I was seeing the ball quite early. It was a beautiful morning in Harare, sunshine out and we are used to batting in those conditions but obviously not with that pressure. Gradually once you get into it and you leave a few balls and a few ones hit the middle of the bat, you think, maybe I can bat here at this level. You try and keep the game as simple as possible. And when you get to 20, you think 'okay just keep doing the same thing' And that will get you to 30 etc etc. If you keep it as simple as that then there is a good chance of you succeeding.
What was the feeling in the camp after the match?
There was a feeling of excitement about the future. It was a pity, we were a bit disappointed we couldn't get a win. But we thought that we've got a chance regarding playing other teams in the future. We actually can compete at this level. Going into the match none of us really knew whether we were good enough. But after that, it gave us a lot of confidence.
Did the Indian players come and speak to you after the Test?
Not to me. But they spoke to my brother (Andy Flower) and Dave Houghton. I was very shy in those days but my brother was more open than me and Houghton too. There were words of encouragement from the Indian team, not sure from which members but they were passed onto us. They were humble and very nice about the way we performed. So it was a good feeling after the match.
What was the biggest learning from that match?
To back yourself. To try and not be too nervous because obviously, that takes away a lot of your energy. You are exhausted by thinking too much about the game. It's also about being prepared and keeping the game as simple as possible. It is quite a simple game but you can make it complicated by talking to too many people or trying too many theories. It's good to experiment but the simpler you can keep it (the better). You train hard, put in the right preparation, keep fit and be smart about your game. These days people can overcomplicate it. Because there is lots of coaching, lots of ex-cricketers and journalists giving you advice, sometimes that can be dangerous. But when we started it was very simple. And I think that held us in good stead.
Afghanistan will be playing their debut Test. It's a big occasion for them. How do you think they should approach this match?
First and foremost, they should be excited about it. It's a huge challenge and they also playing against one of the best teams. There should be excitement and they shouldn't put too much pressure on themselves. But at the same time, they should back themselves. They have got good spinners. They know how to bowl in those conditions and at the same time, their batsmen know how to bat in those conditions. Obviously, Test cricket will be a new experience but the best thing is that these guys have played in these sort of conditions so it shouldn't be too alien to them. So they should be excited about the challenge.
For many years, no team has won its debut Test. Ireland probably came the closest. What do you think should be the mindset of the Afghanistan team going into the Test?
Any match you play, even if you are playing a bottom-ranked team or a top-ranked team, you've got to look to win it. You can't just be looking to draw. The Afghanistan players are naturally attacking, they take risks and I am sure they have spoken about the fact that 'We are going to look to win' and that's first and foremost. And then you have got to just try and be smart, you've got to bat long periods, see off the new ball...all the cliches but you've got to get the basics right and I am sure that's what they will be trying to nail down in their preparation.
How much will Ireland's performance against Pakistan help Afghanistan?
The good thing about being a newcomer to the Test arena, like Zimbabwe were, you don't have much to lose. Having said that, there is a lot of pressure. But there will be pressure on India to win the match because everyone expects that. So there are different pressures, it just depends how you see it as an individual but if I was them, I would be seeing it as a good thing, not having the pressure of winning and people expecting India to win. Having said that, they have got to get their processes right, get their preparation right. Bat for long periods, bowl in good areas, put the batsmen under pressure. And everyone knows that in international sport, you put batsmen or bowlers under pressure for long periods of time, then things start to happen.
What lesson can they take from Ireland's performance?
Ireland played to their strengths. They bowled really well in channels. It was a helpful pitch like a County wicket and they got it in right areas. Tim Murtagh bowled brilliantly. They went on and played with a lot of passion and pride. And I am sure you will see that from Afghanistan.
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