For half the match, it almost looked like Zimbabwe would challenge Australia. Their spinners bowled well, their fielding was excellent and they kept the world champions to a gettable 262.
Could it be that Zimbabwe, not a minnow but by no means a piranha, would end the 23-match World Cup winning streak of the biggest fish in the cricketing pond? Well, no, because Shaun Tait, Mitchell Johnson and Brett Lee were still to play their part.
But what Zimbabwe showed was that they can compete with the strongest sides, and toppling a higher-ranked team or two is not out of the question over the next few weeks.
On the sluggish pitches they will encounter, the spin of Ray Price, Prosper Utseya and Graeme Cremer will be key, but to really threaten, they must find runs from their top order.
Brendan Taylor, Charles Coventry and Tatenda Taibu have the talent to give their side good starts, but the speed of Australia’s bowlers was simply too much.
Coventry slapped Lee over point for six but was jumpy in playing the shorter balls, and was caught when he top-edged an attempted pull, and Taylor was beaten by the sheer pace of an accurate Tait delivery.
“I was really pleased with the way we bowled and fielded,” Zimbabwe’s coach Alan Butcher said after the 91-run loss.
“We had a disaster against Ireland in the field (in the warm-up game) and we’ve worked very hard to put that right, because that’s one of our strengths and we have to be good at that. I would say that I’m qualified in my praise for the team because, yes, most of it was okay, but we obviously need to bat better.
“We didn’t really play (the fast bowlers) as well as we might have done. We don’t see too much of that sort of pace in Zimbabwe, so it’s something we’re going to have to get used to if we’re going to compete at the top level of international cricket.”
Zimbabwe’s next game is far from a top-of-the-table clash, against Canada in Nagpur next Monday, and they will fancy their chances of securing their opening win of the tournament.
Led by Price, who is a tricky customer with the new ball, their spinners kept Australia on the leash at Motera, and they were backed up in the field, highlighted by a frighteningly accurate throw from Chris Mpofu in the deep that caught Ricky Ponting short.
But to their credit, Zimbabwe didn’t fold after crashing to 44 for 4, and some lower-order runs helped them climb to 171. It was another positive in a match that should give Zimbabwean fans hope of a heartening World Cup campaign.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe need to back their disciplined spin bowling with solid batting if they are to leave a mark at the World Cup, skipper Elton Chigumbura has said.
They made a strong statement in their opening match in Ahmedabad on Monday when they restricted defending champions Australia to 262-6 through commendable efforts from their spinners.
Raymond Price, Prosper Utseya and Graeme Cremer proved with their tight spells that Zimbabwe could test the best.
The Zimbabwean batsmen failed to support their spinners as they could manage just 171 to lose the day-night match by 91 runs. Tailender Cremer was the top-scorer with 37.
Left-arm spinner Price, off-spinner Utseya and leg-spinner Cremer conceded just 127 off their combined tally of 30 overs.
It will not be surprising if they again play key roles in their team’s next match against Canada in Nagpur on February 28.
“I think the big positive for us was our bowling and fielding which was superb. I hope we carry on in the rest of the tournament, but we have to work on our batting,” said Chigumbura.
“We have to make sure we keep wickets in hand. We lost too many wickets in early overs (against Australia).”
Australia virtually won the match when they reduced Zimbabwe to 44-4 in 12.3 overs, with pacemen Mitchell Johnson, Shaun Tait and Brett Lee doing the damage.