The Chairman’s Balcony of the Harare Sports Club serves as an altogether lovely, if slightly sad, time capsule. Splayed across the walls are mementos documenting a once vaguely healthy cricketing nation. Highlighted well in the collection is Zimbabwe’s proud history sharing the field with Australians from an era when anything seemed possible for the game in this country.
From 1985, there’s a picture of a touring squad that included Steve Waugh and Dean Jones. Fast forwarding to 1991, there’s a shot of Bob Hawke, then Australian Prime Minister, opening the batting with John Major, his United Kingdom counterpart, in a match played during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Then to 1999, Australia’s first full tour and only Test on Zimbabwean soil, under the tutelage of Waugh and his deputy Shane Warne, who himself made his Australia ‘B’ debut in this country.
Indeed, there is no bigger artefact on show in the entire quasi-museum than an enormous, framed scorecard of the day that Zimbabwe ruined Australia’s 1983 World Cup campaign at Trent Bridge. Every last detail of the day is noted in excruciating detail on several pieces of paper, down to the names of radio commentators. Quite rightly, this was a day that meant a lot.
It wouldn’t be the final time Zimbabwe would stun this opponent in a global tournament. In the opening fixture of the inaugural World T20 in 2007, at the Newlands ground in Cape Town, they knocked them off again on the big stage. The loss prompted Ricky Ponting to declare that they have to “start respecting” the T20 game more. Until Tuesday, it was the only time the sides had met in the format. Then there is the previous time they played an ODI, on this ground in 2014, turning the tables on Michael Clarke’s side to win by three wickets. Within a year, Australia held aloft the World Cup.
But it is another newspaper clipping, albeit in the public bar, that offers a more telling reminder of the modern reality. It is of Andy Flower the day he assumed the mantle as the world’s top-ranked Test Match batsman in 2001. Within two years, he prematurely left the international game in protest of a country that had lost its way. Within four, Zimbabwe cricket followed suit and was in free fall.
This is the Zimbabwe that Australia are facing this week. Much as it was during the darkest days of 2004-05, availability of players is crippling the hosts of a chance to be anything close to competitive. The flogging Aaron Finch handed in setting up the record 100-run pasting (Zimbabwe’s worst in the format) was inevitable. The ICC might have handed Zimbabwe Cricket administrators a financial lifeline in Ireland but it meant little for those players left carrying the can in Harare.
At the very peak of his vast powers, Finch was ripe to do precisely what he did when given the chance to bat first: break his own T20 International world record. Hitting 10 sixes and 16 fours from 76 deliveries in a score of 172, Finch struck 80 per cent of the 223 runs put on for the first wicket with D’Arcy Short. The Australian captain was cashing in the way that international players often will when showing off to their old mates in a club or beer game.
It was a mighty display of power-hitting, of course, and his colleagues were lapping it up. It is rare that a cricket series takes place in winter so the Australians have been enjoying their time in front of the open fire at their hotel in scenes reminiscent of a school camp. Last night over dinner, they were taught how to play the hand drums by some locals. They want to be here and it shows. After four months from hell, they finally have their mojo back.
For Zimbabwe, their fans sat in the crowd with signs of protest, their patience drained as a result of mismanagement bound to bring results like this. What they would give for another performance against Australia worthy of an entry on the Chairman’s Balcony. What they would give for some hope.
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