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Zimbabwe Cricket new dawn, gives fans reason to dance

Goodwill Zunidza, Harare

I had not been to watch cricket at Harare Sports Club since 2017. Watching the Chevrons, that is.

On Tuesday, 2 August 2022 I made a fearful return there for the first time in five years, certainly unsure of whether what I was doing with my time was the right thing.

It was a day of firsts, as I was to tell myself later.

For, indeed for the first time since I began following this team after Zimbabwe had, with South Africa and Kenya, jointly hosted the 2003 ICC World Cup, I saw something new.

I saw a team that wanted to win!

This was no ordinary sight. Ask anyone accustomed to the Chevrons, you will hear this team has never been associated with a winning mentality.

All sorts of superlatives, nay, expletives have become synonymous with our senior men’s national cricket outfit; “conspiring to lose”, “flattering to deceive”, “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory”, “so near yet so far” and, lastly the enduring one, “going down fighting”.

This was about to change from as far as I could make out at 1315hrs just as the first ball was bowled in the third and final T20 clash against Bangladesh.

The two sides were tied 1-apiece from the first two encounters at the weekend and I was weary at the prospect of reliving the same horror script all over again.

But the media frenzy following the qualification a fortnight before by Dave Houghton’s boys for the ICC T20 World Cup in Bulawayo last month told me something was now afoot.

Just the players’ swagger as they came down the stairs from the clubroom and saunter on to the lush green lawn instructed me to remain glued to my seat.

What unfolded had a whole nation in delirium as if sanctions had suddenly been lifted.

Not that it started in as promising a fashion as it finished. The top order suffered quick exits, the most agonizing being the poster-boy Sikhander Raza who was caught for a duck.

Under normal circumstances the Zimbabweans would have at once crumbled especially as three batsmen Regis Chakabva, Craig Ervine and Wesley Madhevere had that early already preceded Raza to the gallery with Sean Williams to follow him shortly after.

But then the body language of the boys showed new heroes could yet be awaiting in the lower order.

And indeed they were. Ryan Burl and Luke Jongwe were their names.

In the limited overs nature of the game, Burl and Jongwe did not take long to make their presence felt.

With the whole weight of the team’s expectations on his broad shoulders, Burl proved extraordinary with the bat, bagging a half century (54) and, during that spell, smashing five sixes in one over and a four in- between to storm into the history books as the third-ever such player in the world to do so.

Did I earlier say I would remain glued to my seat? How, in a dazzling moment like that one?

Jongwe ably partnered him as they sought to outrun each other at the cruise.

Iron-armed, Jongwe hammered in his own proud share of some thunderous fours for a personal total 35, and together the pair contributed a dominant 89 to the team’s final 156 tally.

It felt like a moment in heaven and even the sizeable paying-crowd in the terraces made it seem so with relentless cheering and ululating.

The adrenaline remains fever-high ahead of the one-dayers that kick in Friday.

It appears safe to say Houghton has spindled the magic wand just at the right time as most were beginning to turn elsewhere for that elusive sporting smile.

Asked about it, the veteran gaffer remains modest, attributing the ensuing success to a positive mindset within the team.

“I think right at the start in my first couple of days with the lads down in Bulawayo we talked about what brand of cricket we wanted to play, certainly the brand of cricket I wanted played. . .,” begins Houghton as he mops his head after a few hair-raising moments from the pitch.

“. . . which is that we are positive all the way. We take the positive option as often as we can and we never give in on that.”

He is willing to unpack his statement if any found it difficult to fully grasp:

“When we lost the game on Sunday (the second T20 tie), from a position of 40 to 5 after 10 overs we still got to 136. We took positives from that experience going into the last game.

“Even in the third game we had guys come in from down the order and still rescue the result.”

This is all cricket fans were asking for all these years; players that know the importance of winning, the joy of celebration and the imperativeness of fighting hard to get that victory.

Previously all we got in response was a bunch of players content only with the prestige of putting on the red jersey and pocketing the perks that went with it.

We have a different mould of cricketers now. And an alternative brand of a cricket tactician. They have just qualified to the T20 World Cup in Australia this year and won their first ever T20 series.

The next level of competition for the Chevrons is the three ODIs against Bangladesh which are only a few hours away.

But our nostrils can almost scent another a good dinner in the air. And that should mean something, coming from someone who has never bet on the Chevrons before.

Goodwill Zunidza is an international sports journalist based in Harare. He can be contacted on 0713048105 or alternatively