Brandon Moyo, Sports Reporter
THE date was November 2, 2017 at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo when the Zimbabwean national Test team batted out the entire day to salvage a draw in a five-day match against the West Indies.
A draw was however, not good enough to save the series, a whitewash on home soil may have been avoided but the series was lost 1-0. The Windies had won the first match by 117 runs to continue their Test dominance over Zimbabwe.
That was the last time the city’s home of cricket, Queens Sports Club, played host to a Test match. Fast forward to 2023, the game’s oldest version is returning to the country’s oldest city.
It has been a minute since the Chevrons donned the traditional whites in Bulawayo and starting today the city will once again witness five days of the highest level of cricket in its own background when Zimbabwe, host the last team to visit the city for Tests.
The Windies are coming back to play Tests in Bulawayo again and when they landed at Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport they were in the presence of one the greatest cricketers the world has ever seen and record holder of the highest individual score in a test match, Brian Charles Lara.
As Zimbabwe looks forward to their first ever test win against the Caribbean side, Dave Houghton will be missing some of his trusted lieutenants in the field of play. The team’s skipper Sean Williams is out nursing a finger injury while Sikandar Raza is in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) playing franchise cricket in the International League T20 (ILT20). In Williams’ absence, seasoned campaigner and white ball captain Craig Ervine will marshal the troops that are made up of fairly young players.
A man who made history for Zimbabwe will, since his return to coaching the national team, make his test debut once again. This time as a coach. Houghton played in Zimbabwe’s first-ever five-day match back in 1992 against India and scored the country’s first-ever ton in that match. Taking over the reins as coach last year from Lalchand Rajput, this will be his first Test assignment for the Chevrons.
Just like all cricket followers in Bulawayo and all over the country, Houghton is looking forward to the series.
“I have not seen us play five-day cricket, it has been that long since our last five-day game. We of course play a lot of the longer format in domestic cricket but that’s not the same level or standard we are about to come across in the next two weeks.
“I love Test cricket, I enjoy it for a couple of reasons, and it’s a real opportunity for you to go individually against the opposition, batsman against the bowler, and bowler against the batsman. I expect us to do well because I know our guys are so excited about the opportunity to play the five-day format,” said Houghton during Zimbabwe’s first training session on Tuesday.
Former England international and Zimbabwean-born batter, Gary Ballance will also make his debut for the country of his birth having switched allegiance from the European nation last year. He brings some experience with him after he had previously featured in 23 Tests for England, scoring 1 498 runs with four centuries and seven fifties at an average of 37, 45.
For those who thought that Test cricket is dying, the time has come to revive fading poetry and romance that the five-day match is and was now a rare occurrence in the City of Kings and Queens.
Fans over the past few months have proven to be a vital part of the team, the 12th man so to speak and Houghton acknowledged their role stating that it would be great to see them turn up in numbers to rally behind the team.
Windies skipper, Kraig Brathwaite who was named in the International Cricket Council (ICC) Test team of the year for 2022, said they are looking forward to playing against the Chevrons in their backyard.
“This is my third time in Zimbabwe, I love Zimbabwe, it is a beautiful country and we know they are a very good team at home so we are looking forward to the challenge,” he said.
The match starts at 1000hrs and promises to be an interesting encounter. Zimbabwe has never beaten the Windies in a five day match and would be hoping to change that. — @brandon_malvin