HISTORY was made in Hambantota last Monday when Zimbabwe defeated Sri Lanka by three wickets in the fifth One Day International cricket match between the two countries which handed the Heath Streak-coached lads a remarkable 3-2 series victory.
Zimbabwe had never won any cricket match against Sri Lanka in the Asian island and for them not to only achieve that but to even take the series as well was such a magnificent feat. A few would have given Zimbabwe a chance against Sri Lanka in the sub continent. With Sri Lanka having problems of their own which included parting ways with South Africa-born coach Graham Ford, it was Zimbabwe’s chance to strike.
Signs that a series win was possible were showing when Zimbabwe became the first team to chase a score of over 300 runs in Sri Lanka with a six wicket triumph in the opening ODI. It looked like that win was a fluke when Sri Lanka took the seconds and third ODIs.
Last Saturday presented the Sri Lankans with an opportunity to seal the series but Zimbabwe refused to back down. Rain interruption saw Zimbabwe’s target being revised to 219 in 31 overs and they reached that with 10 balls to spare to leave the series level at 2-2.
Come last Monday, Zimbabwe were just fired up as they cleaned up their hosts for 203 after skipper Graeme Cremer won the toss and opted to bowl.
Victory was achieved with a massive 71 balls to spare but it was not easy for Zimbabwe with Sri Lankan off spinner Akila Dananjaya picking up four wickets for 47 runs in 10 overs with one maiden.
The series victory over Sri Lanka was the first one away over an International Cricket Council Full Member country since Zimbabwe last beat New Zealand 2-1 in January 2001. Streak was the captain of the Zimbabwean team which won that series in New Zealand.
Streak lauded his players for the series triumph, stating that it is not easy to achieve something like that in Sri Lanka. He believes they should have won the decisive ODI by at least five wickets but was satisfied they had crossed the line nevertheless.
“I think they (Sri Lanka) didn’t have their best series, I think we played really well, to chase 300 in these conditions is really good. Yesterday’s (Monday) wicket was tricky, we knew it was going to be difficult towards the end. We should have won it by five wickets in my opinion, we crossed the line, which was important. The players are obviously elated and proud that they managed to achieve this which has eluded many Zimbabwean teams before,’’ said Streak.
The series victory over Sri Lanka saw Zimbabwe close the gap between themselves and Afghanistan on the ICC ODI rankings. Zimbabwe remain on number 11, just two points behind Afghanistan while at the same time opening a gap between themselves and 12th ranked Ireland.
Zimbabwe’s historic series win against Sri Lanka has given the West Indies a glimmer of hope of direct qualification for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 with the gap between two-time former world champions West Indies and 1996 champions Sri Lanka narrowed to 10 points on the rankings.
Streak was particularly impressed with how his players approached their batting and is convinced Zimbabwe will shock bigger opposition in future and the team can even play better than they performed against Sri Lanka.
“I think the way the guys approached their batting, the way they approached the spin, if you look at that 300 runs chase, even if we were chasing a huge total we cruised, the main batters played their part. We won it, we still got a lot more in the bag and we can play even better than we are playing now,’’ he said.
Zimbabwe have over the years struggled to get fixtures against big cricket playing nations, something Streak is convinced will end soon after their display in Sri Lanka. While questions had also been raised on the team’s visits to Scotland and Netherlands before they headed off to Sri Lanka, Streak feels vindicated by those tours which paid off in Sri Lanka.
“I have said to the players, they have got to earn the right for teams to play us, a lot of countries will look at us as being competitive. A few people ask questions of us playing in Scotland and Holland, now they can see the value of playing competitive cricket. Going to Holland and Scotland has paid off,’’ Streak said.
Zimbabwe Cricket chairman Tavengwa Mukuhlani sent his congratulatory message to the team after their series victory.
“To become the first team to successfully chase a 300-plus score on Sri Lankan soil and then, against all odds, to wrap up the series in such emphatic fashion was truly amazing,” he said.
In a bid to ensure that the national cricketers remain active, a South Africa Emerging side is coming to Zimbabwe next month for two four-day matches, one in Bulawayo and another in Kwekwe with three 50 overs fixtures lined up for Harare. Zimbabwe Cricket chairman Tavengwa Mukuhlani said they want to ensure that the momentum from Sri Lanka is not lost with plans to arrange more fixtures in September prior to West Indies’ arrival in October.
“South Africa Emerging squad is arriving on the 1st of August and departing on the 21st of August. They are playing one four day in Bulawayo, one four-day game in Kwekwe and three one day games in Harare,’’ said Mukuhlani.
In also ensuring that the future is looked after, ZC have arranged more fixtures for the national Under-19 who are preparing for their own World Cup in New Zealand next year. The Stephen Mangongo coached lads take on their West Indies counterparts in three 50 over matches, two at Harare Sports Club and one at Peterhouse.
West Indies arrive in Harare on Thursday with the first match on Sunday at HSC, the second is three days later at Peterhouse before the action concludes in the capital city on 29 July. The Zimbabwean juniors have this year played against Sri Lanka, South Africa, Namibia and Malaysian senior team as they gear up for the Under-19 Cricket World Cup in New Zealand.