Zimbabwe's renaissance gains new-found momentum
Sri Lanka vs Zimbabwe - July 18, 2017
Match situation: Sri Lanka fighting to chase down the 388 in the fourth innings. They need 22 more but are six down already.
Graeme Cremer to Asela Gunaratne
Gunaratne's flick finds the boots of the forward short-leg fielder and goes up for the keeper to take a deflected catch. Zimbabwean players go up in unison. The third umpire is called and the replays reveal that the ball had bounced on the turf before going to the keeper.
HUGE CHEERS FROM THE LANKAN CROWD!
Zimbabwe might not have won but the loud cheer from the crowd each time Lanka scored a run in those final tense moments is in itself a victory for the minnows. They were denied by an abysmal call from the third umpire and luck deserted them right through those final moments.
Years later, the scorecard would reveal that Sri Lanka won by four wickets with quite a few overs remaining.
The record books would be filled with words of praise for Rangana Herath, Asela Gunaratne and Niroshan Dickwella. History would honour Dinesh Chandimal for leading his team on his captaincy debut in Tests to the fourth highest chase in the history of cricket and the highest on Asian soil.
Somewhere in the corners or torn edges of those books, Zimbabwe's fight and Shamsuddin's poor call may or may not find a place.
The World is unfair. Cricket is unfair. Why else would South Africa, on their comeback trail after apartheid and playing in their inaugural World Cup in 1992, find themselves needing 22 off 1 ball when they needed 22 off 13 balls before the rain break in the semi-finals.
History books praise Pakistan as eventual champions but would they have gotten past the tournament's darlings, South Africa, had they been in the finals instead of England? Maybe not but we would never know.
Zimbabwe can consider themselves unlucky. They played out of their skins on this tour. Before the ODI series victory, Zimbabwe had seven wins in 50 games against Sri Lanka. SEVEN.
In the course of the next few weeks, they would win three out of five to create history, they would chase down the highest score ever chased down in Sri Lanka, they would make 300 twice and then compete like never before in a Test match.
Zimbabwe had never declared in their second innings outside home before and they came quite close to doing the same in the one-off Test.
They hit the ground running in the Tests, leading by 10 runs in the first innings, providing a flashback of their own self at the start of the second innings, but importantly, sticking it out from then on, making a mammoth 377 from 23/4.
Importantly, they set a 'target'. For the most of the past decade, they were setting up some runs for the opposition to chase down, if at all they managed to make them bat again. This time, they set up a target, a real one that made the home side sit up and make drawings on the board, form huddles and all.
They might have lost the moment Shamsuddin carried his IPL form to the third umpire's chair. But they competed. They made the crowd cheer for a victory the home side did not deserve. They might have failed. But aren't failures the stepping stones to success? Zimbabwe know the path.
They have failed before and then have gone up the ladder in the Flower-brothers era. Oh, how they bloomed then!
Yet, the inevitable slide with the political conundrum in the country resulted in more than a decade of mediocrity. Now, they have taken one small leap from the puddle. They haven't reached the first stone to success yet but they are close. So close that Hayden's mongoose bat could help them reach that first step.
But they know that the world isn't fair.
A small push is all it would take to reach the puddle again. Zimbabwe wouldn't want that. They fought hard to step out of the dirt. They struggled, fought, struggled again, fought again. Yet, they lost the Test.
How they wish there was one more Test match to test themselves one another time. Minnows barely get more than one-off Tests. They barely get anything better than Shamsuddin.
But they can take heart from the silent applauses of the lovers of the game. They know that Zimbabwe were miles ahead of themselves and their opposition in this series. They know that this country has finally found their mojo back. They know that Zimbabwe can show they belong...finally.
But the first step still eludes them. Glory rests at the top of the steps. But the path to glory begins with that first step. While they take heart from their performance in Sri Lanka, they need to sit down and manage their cricket for the future. Finally, they have a straw to escape. They need to grab that straw and escape from mediocrity.
They have quite a bit of young, talented cricketers. Not quite the blooming Flowers yet but some of them have a sense of belonging and passion. Sikander Raza, Solomon Mire, Hamilton Masakadza, Craig Ervine, Malcolm Waller, Sean Williams, Graeme Cremer and Chris Mpofu have all shown the spirit and willingness to fight it out.
They have able support staff in Heath Streak, who understands the nuances of the game in the country, Makhaya Ntini and Lance Klusener. The individual players aren't world-class yet but together, as a team, they have the essentials to fight it out.
With Ireland and Afghanistan gaining Test status, Zimbabwe wouldn't want to be forgotten. They wouldn't be, if they manage to churn out such performances with more regularity.
As Robert Frost's famous poem goes, "The Woods are lovely, dark and deep" but Zimbabwe have "promises to keep" and "miles to go before they sleep".