Heath Streak followed up his innings of 45 with match-winning figures of 4 for 8 © Getty Images
Heath Streak followed up his innings of 45 with match-winning figures of 4 for 8 © Getty Images

Less than a decade since the end of their supremacy at the top, West Indies slid to an embarrassing defeat against Zimbabwe at Sydney on January 23, 2001. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back a remarkable bunch of Zimbabweans who defended a low score to pull off a sensational victory.

No one would have believed in the 1980s or even in the early 1990s if they were told that West Indies would go down to Zimbabwe in a one-sided encounter. However, their worst nightmare turned out to be true at SCG on a hot Australian summer day.

Cameron Cuffy bowled with hostility, extracting serious bounce on a very hard pitch. He bowled unchanged through his 10 overs, removing Alistair Campbell, Guy Whittall and the Flower brothers. Cuffy was accurate, and often lifted the ball from a good length, causing great discomfort to the batsmen.

Once the Cuffy show was over, Laurie Williams came to the party, removing the resilient Stuart Carlisle, and following it up with two more scalps, while Nixon McLean picked up one. At 88 for 8, Zimbabwe’s fight seemed to be over, but their captain Heath Streak was not prepared to go down without a fight.

Streak farmed the strike, shielding Bryan Strang and later on Brian Murphy from the pace barrage. Once he saw the spinners off, Streak gradually began to score a few runs. Murphy hung around for over 10 overs, though he had a lucky reprieve when Ridley Jacobs dived to his left for what would have been a world record sixth catch. He dislodged his cap, which somehow managed to intercept the flying ball. Zimbabwe were awarded 5 penalty runs.

Streak was fluent against the spinners, Marlon Samuels and Mahendra Nagamootoo, and gradually helped his side to reach 138. Thereafter, he tried to loft Samuels over long-on in the 48th over, and was caught by the substitute fielder Sylvester Joseph. Streak’s 45 had come off 70 balls.

The West Indians should have reached the target with plenty to spare. However, Streak and Strang turned out to be more than a handful for them: they reached 16 before Jacobs was trapped leg-before to Streak. Sherwin Campbell, who had left the field nursing a shoulder injury, was caught in the slip off Strang for a duck. The score was 22 for 2, and suddenly Zimbabwe sensed blood.

In the next over Wavell Hinds edged Streak, and Campbell took his second catch — albeit a juggling one — in the slips. The big wicket came in the next over: Strang managed to Brian Lara on his back leg plumb in front of the wickets, and West Indies had suddenly slipped to 22 for 4 after 10 overs.

Streak and Strang bowled with relentless accuracy with the new ball: they gave nothing away, and moved the ball just enough to beat the bat or to find the edge. Choked by the West Indian stranglehold, Samuels tried to cut one off Strang, only to find Carlisle in the slips. Ricardo Powell fell leg-before to Streak, and Williams fell to an acrobatic catch by Carlisle the very next ball. Nagamootoo saved the hat-trick, and at the end of the 15 overs of field restrictions, West Indies were reeling at 29 for 7, with Jimmy Adams — their captain — their sole hope.

The West Indians felt that their pride was at stake now: Nagamootoo tried to charge the first-change bowler Mluleki Nkala, but fell to a diving catch by Dirk Viljoen at deep third-man. With the score on 31 for 8, McLean arrived at the crease. Adams decided to hold fort while McLean decided to hit out against the Zimbabwe attack.

With their seamers needing some rest, Streak decided to give Whittall and Murphy a run. This did not work as McLean hit out against both of them, taking West Indies past the existing lowest ODI score of 43. He hit four consecutive fours in the 20th over bowled by Whittall.

As the runs accumulated, West Indies began to find their groove. Streak and Strang had already bowled eight overs each, so Streak brought on Nkala, his third seamer, who still had five overs to spare. Adams hit back at Nkala, who took a spectacular catch off his own bowling to end the 60-run ninth-wicket partnership. Two balls later Cuffy edged Nkala to give Carlisle his third catch in the slips, and West Indies were bowled out for a humiliating 91.

The Zimbabweans were obviously elated. They had a deserving celebration — while for the West Indians, the ignominy of the defeat was more dreadful than the result.

Streak followed his 45 with figures of 8-4-8-4, and was the deserving winner of the Man of the Match award.

Brief scores:

Zimbabwe 138 in 47.2 overs (Heath Streak 45; Cameron Cuffy 4 for 24, Ridley Jacobs 5 catches) beat West Indies 91 in 31.5 overs (Nixon McLean 40*; Heath Streak 4 for 8) by 47 runs.

Man of the Match: Heath Streak.

(A hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobiac by his own admission, Abhishek Mukherjee is a statistical analyst based in Kolkata, India. He typically looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – not necessarily as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the game with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a rather steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers the sport has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks and googlies in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in)