Fairy-tale victory for ZC

Zimbabwe’s cricket team returned to winning ways with a fairy-tale victory over a depleted South Africa in the final of the recent tri-series at Harare Sports Club. The champagne-soaked celebrations kicked off moments after captain Brendan Taylor crunched Wayne Parnell to the deep midwicket boundary to score the winning runs, and an ecstatic crowd spilled onto the field as the Zimbabwean squad set off on a victory lap.

Hamilton Masakadza in action for Zimbabwe.
Hamilton Masakadza in action for Zimbabwe.

Prior to this series Zimbabwe had beaten South Africa just twice, at the World Cup in England in 1999 and in an ODI at Kingsmead in Durban the following year. They trounced their southern neighbours twice in a week in this series, showing just how far this team has come.

“We’re over the moon,” said Taylor, who contributed an unbeaten 50 in an unbroken partnership of 118 with Hamilton Masakadza in Sunday’s final. “It’s a major win against a good quality international team so we’re extremely proud of the way we prepared leading up to this series.” The day had belonged to Zimbabwe from the very first ball, when Kyle Jarvis removed the explosive South African opener Richard Levi. South African captain Hashim Amla soon followed Levi to the pavilion and Zimbabwe never looked back, bossing the game from that point onwards.

“Our first six overs in the Powerplay with the ball really set the tone,” agreed Taylor. “We got two of their best players out and it was hard for them to come back and post a competitive total. The way we started with the bat was also really good to watch.”

The result showed just what it’s possible for Zimbabwe to achieve with the right personnel and adequate preparation. The team’s successful return to Test cricket against Bangladesh in August last year was built around a holistic approach to team-building, and their methods this time around were no different. A training squad was announced at the beginning of May, and assistant coach Stephen Mangongo insisted that the entire staff had approached the series as a high-profile, important event.

The preparation paid off as Zimbabwe started strongly with wins over both Bangladesh and South Africa. Their form fell away a little after that, and after successive losses they scraped into the final by virtue of their superior net run-rate. “It takes character to come back from two losses,” insisted Taylor. “To perform the way we did today was outstanding.”

Zimbabwe’s three victories in this tournament rested upon strong contributions from an increasingly sturdy top order. Hamilton Masakadza was the best batsman on any side and his 267 runs, including no less than four 50s, rightfully earned him the Man-of-the-Series award. “He’s worked extremely hard and the reward he’s now got is only fair to him. Hopefully he can keep going from strength to strength,” said Taylor.

Masakadza’s imperious form helped Zimbabwe weather the absence of experienced wicketkeeper-batsman Tatenda Taibu, and the bowlers also did well to operate as a unit without elder statesman Ray Price. Indeed, there were three Zimbabweans in the top five of the tournament’s leading wicket-taker tables, with a rejuevenated Chris Mpofu in the top slot with seven scalps. Zimbabwe’s focus now turns to the World Twenty20, where they’ll be in a tough group with hosts Sri Lanka and a full-strength South Africa. “There’ll be a lot of spot training, and a bit of A cricket against South Africa A and Sri Lanka A,” concluded Taylor.

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