THE 2015 Cricket World Cup might still be five months away, but Sunday’s stunning three-wicket win over Australia at Harare Sports Club might have come just at the right time for Zimbabwe to build some momentum ahead of the global showpiece.
Australia, who yesterday lost their number one spot on the Reliance ICC One-Day International (ODI) Team Rankings to India following the defeat to Zimbabwe, will co-host next year’s Cricket World Cup with New Zealand.
Unlike Australia, who won the World Cup in 1987, 1999, 2003 and 2007, Zimbabwe will not be expected to win next year’s World Cup.
However, Sunday’s win — the home side’s first victory against the Aussies since 1983 — showed they are capable of causing a few upsets against the top sides or even sneak into the latter stages of the competition.
While for Australia, the shock ODI defeat rang alarm bells in their camp ahead of the global tournament, for Zimbabwe, the historic win might just be the boost the team needed after a disappointing run of defeats.
The national side had suffered consecutive defeats in their last seven ODI matches until Sunday’s landmark win, in a depressing winless streak that stretched back to the home series against Afghanistan in July.
In all those defeats, Zimbabwe’s batting department had been the major cause for concern, in most cases failing to complement the good work which would have been done by the bowlers.
Last Friday, Zimbabwe had looked set for a major upset after Prosper Utseya took a hat-trick and a maiden career five-wicket haul as the home side bowled out South Africa for 231 runs.
Although another lifeless batting perfomance saw Zimbabwe lose that match by 61 runs, it was clear the home side was beginning to find some consistency in performance especially in their bowling department.
On Sunday, it would be the bowlers, who, yet again, laid the foundation for the famous victory after restricting the tourists to their lowest total against Zimbabwe.
The quartet of Utseya, Sean Williams, John Nyumbu and Malcolm Waller all made it extremely difficult for the Aussies to score freely.
Having been the team’s major Achilles heel, the batting department finally delivered with the team’s skipper Elton Chigumbura leading from the front with an unbeaten 52.
Chigumbura had come to the crease when Zimbabwe was 156 for 7, before sharing an unbroken 55-run stand which ensured the home side chased down Australia’s 209 for 9 with two overs to spare.
“It was a proud moment for everyone, for Zimbabwe Cricket and even for Zimbabwe because it’s been more than 30 years since we beat Australia [in the ODI arena at the 1983 World Cup in England],” Chigumbura said.
“We just had to bat 50 overs and stay calm. My role was just to support Prosper because he was being more positive than I was. I knew if I could bat until the end, we would have a good chance.”
Meanwhile, the Australian media yesterday slammed their national team’s defeat to Zimbabwe, describing it as one of the country’s deepest cricketing humiliations.
“There’s one word that’s been used more than any other to describe Australia’s defeat at the hands of Zimbabwe on Sunday,” one critic wrote on a News Ltd website yesterday.
Australia captain Michael Clarke, who returned home yesterday for scans on his injured hamstring, was also livid with his teammates after the loss, but credited Zimbabwe.
“It’s a terrible performance, there’s no doubt about it,” he told reporters. “Forget the opposition, I think we played some average cricket at best throughout the whole game.
“I think credit needs to go to Zimbabwe,” Clarke added. “I think their spinners bowled really well to us, they used the conditions really well. Obviously we didn’t bat very well at all. And then they played spin really well. They bowled a lot better than us.
“We continually talk about facing spin-bowling as an Australian team. It seems to be an area that we continue to struggle in and today’s another example of that.”
Since taking over from the sacked Mickey Arthur last year, laid-back Australia coach Darren Lehmann has had little cause to berate his team, but was incensed by the bloodless performance at the Harare Sports Club.
“There’s probably not enough expletives in the English language at the moment for the way I’m feeling,” Lehmann said in quotes published by News Ltd media yesterday.
“It’s just embarrassing for everyone involved in the touring party, and I hope they’re hurting.
“They should be.
“We’ve got to learn really quickly because teams are going to see that and they’re going to react to it.”
Repairing dressing room harmony has been a corner-stone of Lehmann’s tenure, but a frustrated Clarke made rare criticism of selectors for omitting middle order batsman Steven Smith.
“I think our middle order batting certainly missed Steven Smith,” he said. “He’s a very good player of spin. It was disappointing he wasn’t out there to combat those conditions, but that was the way the selectors went.
“It’s tough for the selectors to pick what you think is the best 11.
“Fortunately, they won’t have to worry about me in the next game, so there’s one they won’t have to worry about.”