Belief - a word that is thrown around most callously, especially in sport. ‘You must believe’ they say. There are inspirational quotes on what belief can do from the best in the business. And yet, despite clear empirical evidence that belief works, is it that easy to believe? Ask the Zimbabwe cricket team.
They came to Sri Lanka ranked No.11 in the world, having lost to Scotland only in the previous month. Earlier this year they lost to the ever surging Afghanistan. Dilapidated cricket infrastructure, a nation that is in shambles and the threat of rising associate nations; Zimbabwe had little in their favour to ignite even a wisp of belief when they came to Sri Lanka.
The last time Zimbabwe won a bilateral series outside of Zimbabwe was way back in 2009 against Kenya. An away bilateral series against a Full Member was even before that in 2001 against Bangladesh, earlier that year itself, they beat New Zealand too. It was only 16 years later that they would come to Sri Lanka (with a far inferior side than the one in 2001) and stun a reeling Sri Lankan team by winning the One-Day International series 2-3.
It took Zimbabwe 16 years to believe that they can turn up and play to win a game of cricket. Or was it just a moment that instilled that belief? Sikander Raza, the star of Zimbabwe’s historic series win says it was the first game – where they chased down 317 in 47.4 overs- that led them to believe that they could win.
Such is the nature of sport, a team that was yearning for success away from home against a formidable team for 16 years, took less than 300 balls to believe that they belonged.
But this might well be an aberration. A point that a number of sport teams arrive at. A point where everything sticks and everyone peaks. Something that happened to Leicester City in the English Premier League in 2016. Beating 5000-1 odds against them, Leicester City went on to become the champions of one of the world’s toughest football leagues. Only to languish in the bottom half of the league points table in 2017. Some feel that this was a realistic regression waiting to happen for Leicester City.
While that may be a topic to ponder upon for Football pundits, Zimbabwe’s performance in Sri Lanka is maybe a testament to why some teams are doing better in the limited-overs cricket than others. In the five-match series, none of Zimbabwe’s batsmen or bowlers figured in the top two of the leading run-scorers or wicket-takers respectively. The batting average from the home-team was also significantly higher through the series. While Sri Lankan batsmen scored at an average of 50.20, Zimbabwe scored at 32.91.
So, where exactly did Zimbabwe win this series? In the answer to that question lies the secret of why some teams are doing better than others in the shorter format of the game. Zimbabwe’s batsmen scored at a strike rate of 96.16 throughout the series while the Sri Lankan batsmen were slower, scoring at a strike rate of 88.14. Another area where Zimbabwe tripped Sri Lanka was the number of boundaries either side hit throughout the series. Sri Lanka could only manage 128 boundaries while Zimbabwe hit 143.
The numbers here clearly point at where games are won and lost in modern-day limited overs internationals. While Sri Lanka lingered with the conventional approach of building the innings, spending time in the middle, Zimbabwe knew that for them to win, they’d need to stun the opposition. To their credit, they did that exceedingly well by playing some fearless cricket.
A glaring example of how Zimbabwe played some fearless brand of cricket is how they came out to chase a paltry score of 204 to win on a slow and turning track. The easiest thing for Zimbabwe could have been to implode and give in to the pressure. But the way Solomon Mire took Nuwan Kulasekara on in only the fourth over of their innings by hitting three fours and a six sent a clear message to everyone, this Zimbabwe side was in it to win.
While victories like these can change the course of any sporting team, Zimbabwe must be wary of what lies ahead. This was, by some distance, a very average Sri Lankan outfit. For them to make a mark in world cricket, Zimbabwe must not become complacent. For nothing throws you down the hill in sport like complacency does. And while they’re at it, they must never stop believing.Published 11 Jul 2017, 22:58 IST