25 years of Zimbabwe in Test cricket

David Houghton

David Houghton

A TOTAL of 101 players have represented Zimbabwe in Tests over the years; here we take a look at the ones who have had the maximum impact.

Twenty-five years ago, Zimbabwe took its first steps in Test cricket. Those steps were not quite so tentative however as it started with a century partnership for its first wicket on the way to posting a total of 456 against India at Harare. Evergreen John Traicos —who had represented South Africa back in 1970 —took five Indian wickets and the Test ended drawn, leaving Zimbabwe just the second team not to lose its first Test – after Australia in the very first Test match of all.

A total of 101 players have represented Zimbabwe in total, so in honour of a quarter-of-a-century of Zimbabwean Test cricket — which players have had the greatest impact on the MRF Tyres ICC Rankings?

Zimbabwe’s early batting star was without doubt David Houghton. His memorable 142 against New Zealand at Hyderabad in ICC Cricket World Cup 1987 first alerted the world to his batting prowess and he headlined that first Test at Harare with innings of 121 and 41 not out. Two years later he had a memorable series against Sri Lanka, hitting a still-national-record 266 at Bulawayo and following up with 142 at Harare the following week. A further century followed at Auckland in early 1996, but by then he was 38 years old and his Test career had just a year to run.

Houghton’s innings of 142 moved him up to 18th in the world with 630 points, and he had nudged up a further place by the time 1994 ended, which remained his highest position. It would be a further five years before a Zimbabwean cracked the world’s Top 10 batsmen.

That man was Murray Goodwin who made his Test debut in January 1998 and in just his fifth Test made amends for a first-innings duck against Pakistan at Bulawayo by remaining unbeaten on 166 second time around. He boasted an average of 53.60 in his first year of Test cricket and when he struck 91 against Australia at Harare in October 1999 he moved up to eighth position with 698 points. His form subsequently fell away but he ended his Test career with an unbeaten 148 against England at Nottingham in 2000.

Goodwin was followed into the Top 10 just a month later – in November 1999 by team-mate Andy Flower after he struck 74 and 129 against Sri Lanka at Harare, but better was to follow. His memorable tour of India in late 2000 – in which he scored 183* and 70 at Delhi and then 55 and 232* – at Nagpur pushed him up to second place in the world, behind only Sachin Tendulkar. The following year, innings of 142 & 199 not out against South Africa at Harare put him top of the world and is so far the only player from his country to top any Test table.

There was an inevitable loss of form after such a staggering high, but he was still in tenth position when his Test career ended at the end of 2002. Flower’s peak points tally of 895 makes him not only the sole Zimbabwean batsman to surpass 700 points, but also ranks as the joint-33rd highest points tally of any player of all time.

With the ball, it is very much a one-man show in terms of the player who had the greatest impact on the world rankings. Spinner Paul Strang reached 24th place in 2000 and fellow slow-bowler Ray Price even broke the world’s Top 20 to reach 16th place in 2004, but it was a paceman who remains the only Zimbabwean to reach the Top 10 bowlers in the longest form of the game.

Heath Streak was wicket-less on his Test debut against Pakistan at Karachi in December 1993 but made up for it the following week with hauls of 3-58 and 5-56 at Rawalpindi. His success continued and he passed 50 Test wickets in just his eleventh Test.

Two matches later – in September 1996 he took 3-54 against Sri Lanka at Colombo to move up to fifth in the world with a points tally of 794. At the time, his 61 Test wickets had come at the remarkable average of just 21.49 apiece. For the next four years he was a permanent fixture in the world’s Top 10 bowlers and 11 wickets in two Tests against Bangladesh in April 2001 helped push him back up to sixth place with 781 points.

That was as good as it got, but he remained in the world’s Top 20 bowlers right up to the end of his Test career in September 2005, when he signed off with 216 Test wickets and 607 points – still good enough for 19th place.

As Zimbabwe prepares to start its second quarter-century of Test cricket it welcomes Brendan Taylor back into the side. He will be keen to improve on his career-best 16th position with 684 points back in 2014 and become the third Zimbabwean to reach the world’s Top 10 with the bat. — ICC

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