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Sean Williams scored 119 in the second innings AFP

There are times when even the most successful cricket teams go through bad phases. Motivation and inspiration are the two things that put them back on their usual track. It is, however, different with Zimbabwe. They do not seem to realise or acknowledge who their talented men are, and what exactly their strongest suits are. As a result, they are going through the worst phase of their Test history. Against all odds, however, they keep on producing quality individual performances every now and then. For example, Sean Williams pulled off a knock of 119 in a losing cause against New Zealand. Whether it will be the turning point in Zimbabwe’s current mess as a cricket team is something only time will tell, but there is no doubt that it was a special innings. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: Zimbabwe vs New Zealand, 1st Test match

Zimbabwe, to be brutally honest, are clueless about how to start sorting their issues out given there are too many. The ever-changing captaincy, unstable support staff, lack of proper infrastructure to pick talented youngsters none of these has helped their cause. Zimbabwe have created their own problems, piling up jobs for some time now. However, the board is taking positive steps towards improvement.

The ongoing Test series, in itself, is a big positive. Zimbabwe played their last Test two years ago. Though they are playing limited-overs cricket often (though not as often as they would have wanted to), their opposition has not changed much, mostly being limited to Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

The purest form of the game, Test cricket is something that, true to its name, actually serves as a test to the players, checking their patience, skills, talent and more in changing situations. Many associates nation have emerged as skillful sides to play cricket, and are awaiting their chance of getting the opportunity to play Test cricket in recent times. It comes as a blessing at this point, that, Zimbabwe have managed to retain theirs and got to play with one of the bigger Test sides.

Practically, Zimbabwe had very less chances, despite the home advantage. That is precisely what happened in the first Test. Nobody was surprised. Both captains, Graeme Cremer and Kane Williamson, are leading their first Test series, but there is significant difference between the two. Williamson has closely observed one of his country’s most successful leaders, Brendon McCullum; on the other hand, all Cremer has seen are bits of Elton Chigumbura and Hamilton Masakadza in coloured jerseys (who subsequently got sacked for faults that were not theirs). New Zealand have a sorted side with several backup options; Zimbabwe, on the other hand, have players with limited Test experience and ordinary careers. All these can do nothing but increase the tension in the team, a share of which Williams was bearing.

Zimbabwe had not started the series positively at all. Their first-innings score was low even by T20 standards. One of the most dependable bowlers of the side, Williams must have had a different mindset. He had already seen the top-order collapse twice in the same match. New Zealand had put up a mammoth 576 and Zimbabwe looked to lose by their record margin, struggling at 17 for 4. Craig Ervine and Sikandar Raza settled things a bit, but not for long.

Obviously, the team has talent, the reason they are in the final eleven; that was what reflected in Williams’ batting. His patience, adaptability, counterattacking strokeplay, determination might have made Williamson think despite the humongous lead. New Zealand still won by a massive margin, but at least Zimbabwe reached a point where making New Zealand bat again was a possibility. The impact of Williams on Williamson (I had to do that pun) was noticeable.

But he had to fell. Scoring a maiden Test century under pressure situation and against New Zealand was impressive; the fact that he pulled this off despite a bout of flu, and left shaking his head in disappointment, made one take Zimbabwe cricket seriously for once. He knew he was the only hope, and he was aware he failed to pull off what could have been a face-saving performance for them.

Kusal Mendis will remain a hero, for he fetched a glorious victory for Sri Lanka against Australia after a long struggle. But Williams’ effort was no less, for it was not his fault that Zimbabwe surrendered meekly. He did his bit, providing his teammates with an example that can inspire them to fight back, and who knows? change the course of things happening currently.

(Paulami Chakraborty, a singer, dancer, artist, and photographer, loves the madness of cricket and writes about the game. She can be followed on Twitter at @Polotwitts)