History was made at 12:53 on Monday afternoon. Umpire Kumar Dharmasena raised the finger to confirm a 130-run victory for Zimbabwe, who for so long were the pariahs of world cricket, in their first Test back after a six-year absence. The celebrations showed how much it meant, the players donning flags and embarking on a lap of honour after snatching up the stumps and enjoying a prolonged team huddle. Cricket in Zimbabwe, in spite of its administrative troubles, is truly alive once again.
Tougher tasks are to follow against Pakistan and New Zealand, but nobody could begrudge Zimbabwe their comfortable victory over Bangladesh on Monday. After all, they showed greater skill, patience and consistency over the course of five days than a side who, short on recent Test action as they may be, have more Test experience than them. What’s more, they backed that up by playing with a fearless attitude that was typified in their bold declaration at tea on day four.
Such confidence in their own abilities was justified when they required little more than a session to wrap up the seven wickets they needed on the final day. On what remained a good surface for batting Bangladesh still had a chance of scoring the 264 runs they required, but there was no doubt who wanted it more. Brian Vitori made the initial breakthrough, forcing Mohammad Ashraful (38) to play on, but the best example of Zimbabwe’s desire was Chris Mpofu, who steamed in from the City End to remove both Mahmudullah (11) and Mushfiqur Rahim (28).
Brendan Taylor was rightly named the man of the match for his 71 and 105 not out in his first match as captain, but this was undoubtedly a team performance, with everyone chipping in at crucial times. The bowlers backed each other up superbly, with Elton Chigumbura the workhorse for much of the first innings but coming to the fore to part Bangladesh’s last two serious batsmen. Coming from over the wicket to the left-handers he consistently bowled a tight line that required risky shot-making to score, and he was rewarded when Shakib Al Hasan edged low to Taylor at second slip, where a sharp catch was taken.
At 174 for seven there was little left for Bangladesh to do but have a go, and Abdur Razzak obliged as he smashed his way to 43 from 17 balls – the fastest innings in Test cricket involving more than 32 runs. Ray Price took the worst flak, with his first three balls of the day all going for six. But Zimbabwe were not to be deterred and Chigumbura struck again, bowling Razzak with a straight one as the left-hander attempted to heave to leg once more. While it had been a little expensive, Razzak’s wicket had been bought.
Less than three overs were required after lunch to wrap up the last two wickets. Kyle Jarvis, who endured some awful luck with dropped catches in the first innings and beaten edges in the second, deservedly snapped them up. Shafiul Islam was bowled by the first ball of the session, before Jarvis finished it off in his next over by trapping Robiul Islam lbw.
Although the crowd at Harare Sports Club was relatively small they gave a rousing ovation as Zimbabwe’s players thanked them before pouring champagne on the heads of their coaches. For a team who remain unpaid and uncontracted, it had been an impressively professional performance and they deserve the goodwill which will be forthcoming from the majority of cricket fans around the world. Bangladesh will be grateful for it as well, their incompetence drowned out by the sense that Monday had provided a victory for cricket.