SOUTH AFRICA might have claimed the one-day international (ODI) triangular cricket series title with a win over Australia on Saturday, but Zimbabwe might have emerged the biggest winners as the high profile series breathed a new lease life into local cricket.
When the tri-series was announced early this year, very few gave Zimbabwe a chance of at least putting on a competitive performance against the then top-ranked ODI sides.
However, despite starting their campaign with a heavy loss to Australia, Zimbabwe were competitive afterwards, even managing to cause one of the biggest upsets in world cricket by beating Australia in one of the matches.
The Elton Chigumbura-captained side also came close to upstaging South Africa on two occasions only to be let down by their inept batting after the bowlers had laid the foundation.
While the highlight was the historic three-wicket win over Australia — the hosts’ first and only ODI win over the Aussies since the 1983 World Cup — it was also refreshing to see local cricket fans rediscovering their romance with the country’s second biggest sport.
Local cricket fans came to Harare Sports Club in huge numbers to cheer the teams, turning the match venue into a carnival atmosphere even when Zimbabwe was not playing.
Even the sponsors, spurred on by the famous win over Australia, seem to have also started coming back as witnessed by the coming on board of Pure Oil to partner Zimbabwe Cricket through their ZimGold cooking oil brand.
The local company also unveiled a $1 000 sponsorship for the Pride of Zimbabwe Award which was presented to off-spinner Prosper Utseya after the tri-series final between Australia and South Africa on Saturday for his impressive display during the series.
Utseya claimed a memorable hat-trick and five-wicket-haul against South Africa, while he was also instrumental with both bat and ball in the famous win over Australia.
For long, Utseya has been generally known for his ability to curb the run rate rather than his wicket-taking abilities, but the just ended series saw the 29-year-old former captain reinventing himself.
Utseya ended the tri-series as Zimbabwe’s highest wicket taker during the series with seven wickets from seven matches, just three behind Dale Steyn who ended the series with 10 wickets.
Despite some criticism against his style of coaching, new head coach Steve Mangongo should also be given credit for the way he has managed to get the best out of a player like Utseya.
While there were a lot of positives for Zimbabwe in their bowling department with players like Utseya, John Nyumbu and Sean Williams proving their worth, the same cannot be said about the batting department.
The batting department was a major letdown during the tri-series, with the batsmen giving their wickets cheaply and failing to convert their good starts into good scores.
Zimbabwe Test captain Brendan Taylor said the ODI win against Australia had given the side a lot of self-belief ahead of next year’s World Cup, but said the batting department needed to contribute more consistently.
“When you win against Australia, it will give you that huge belief,” Taylor said.
“There have been times against South Africa where we have been bowling exceptionally well and putting ourselves in winning positions.
“The top order has not contributed enough. We should have got over the line when we are chasing scores of 220-250.
“We’ve collapsed and left too much for the middle order and the tail-enders. So that’s an area we need to improve on.
“If our top-order batsmen can fire more consistently and our fielding — we’ve been dropping a few chances lately — can improve, I think we have a greater chance of winning more often.”
There were only three half-centuries in six games from the home side coming from Hamilton Masakadza, Taylor and Chigumbura.
As the team turns its attention to the Bangladesh tour in October, a lot of focus should be put on the batting department with some of the batsman expected to get an early feel of the sub-continent conditions with Zimbabwe A side later this month.