This was Zimbabwe’s first appearance in the World Cup. Full membership of the International Cricket Conference (ICC) was yet a distant hope for them. The World Cup was a forum where they could display their skills and coax the game’s administrators into rewarding them with Test status. That they would strive to their utmost was not in doubt, and it was reflected in their brilliant fielding. But whether they could transcend their inexperience at the highest level, and produce strong enough performances to challenge the major nations was to be seen. This match dispelled all doubts.
Put in to bat, Zimbabwe made a confident start against an accomplished Australian attack. Ali Shah and Grant Paterson raised 55 for the first wicket in 19 overs. But the peerless Dennis Lillee removed both off successive deliveries. Then Jack Heron and Andy Pycroft put on 31 before another flurry of wickets, two at 86 and another 8 runs later. At 94 for five the Zimbabwe innings seemed to have come apart.
Duncan Fletcher, playing a real captain’s innings, ensured that it did not. Though he was dropped twice, exposing a malaise afflicting the Australians, he played some handsome strokes all round the wicket. He put on 70 priceless runs for the sixth wicket with Kevin Curran. Finally, Iain Butchart helped Fletcher boost the score by another 75 runs before the overs ran out. Fletcher had rescued his side from a precarious situation to a position of respectability.
There were no alarms as the Australian openers, Graeme Wood and Kepler Wessels set about getting the runs. They put on 61 runs before Duncan Fletcher made his presence felt once again. He had Wood taken behind and without further ado, consumed his counterpart Kim Hughes as well.
Wessels and David Hookes tried to force the pace as they added 51 runs. Hookes was then caught splendidly by the former South African off-spinner John Traicos, the only player with Test experience in the Zimbabwean side. The bowler: Duncan Fletcher. Graham Yallop left to another fine catch, this time by Pycroft, and Fletcher had claimed all the four wickets. Not long after, it was the turn of Wessels - who later captained South Africa - to be run out as Allan Border sent him back. With the asking rate climbing, the Australians had to scramble towards their target. Border tried a big hit in the 52nd over and was caught, and Geoff Lawson too fell soon. At 176 for seven, still, 63 runs adrift with the overs running out, Australia seemed to be down for the count.
Fifty-three runs were required off the last five overs. But Rodney Marsh was not ready to call it a day so soon, and he found a willing ally in fast bowler Rodney Hogg. The two went for the bowling, but the Zimbabwe fielding was equal to the task. There were 23 runs needed in the last over. They managed only nine as Marsh hit a six and reached his half-century.
Zimbabwe pulled off a stunning upset which set the trend for the tournament. Fletcher was the man of the moment with his unbeaten 69 of 84 balls inclusive of 5 fours, and four wickets for 42 off 11 overs. He exulted: "We knew our only chance was to put pressure through our fielding. We don't have a battery of fast bowlers but by practicing fielding hard, we gave full support to our line and length bowlers and the result was our reward." For Australia, it was a disaster that ultimately helped India reach the semi-finals at their expense.
Zimbabwe: 239 for 6 wickets (60 overs), Australia: 226 for 7 wickets (60 overs) (CWC 1983)