Year-ender 2018: Zimbabwe review – A rare away Test win the only saving grace

It doesn’t make for pleasant reading when you look back at the year gone by for Zimbabwe cricket. There were more heartbreaks than reasons to celebrate. Victories were rare, in some case non-existent and despite a high of their first away Test win in 17 years, 2018 would best be remembered for the epic choke when they failed to qualify for the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup in front of a packed home crowd.

Their year began in Bangladesh where they faced the hosts and Sri Lanka in an ODI tri-series – their first of six such series during the year. They won just one game out of five, against Sri Lanka before flying to Sharjah where they again managed a solitary win in a five-ODI series against Afghanistan.

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A bigger challenge awaited them at home as they hosted the ICC World Cup Qualifier in March. From seven matches, they recorded four victories, a tie and two defeats. Out of the two defeats, the one to UAE created ripples as they just needed to beat the minnows to punch their ticket to England for the 50-over world cup. But a three-run defeat followed, resulting in national mourning. Such was the impact of the failure that they couldn’t win a single ODI  during the year, losing three consecutive bilateral ODI series against Pakistan, South Africa and Bangladesh.

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They didn’t win a single T20I in 2018. However, the tour of Bangladesh for a two-Test series resulted in an epic win in the first Test followed by a crushing defeat in a 1-1 draw. They were also plagued by off-field issues with their debt-stricken cricket board approaching the ICC  for financial assistance, as well as an ugly fracas with Sikandar Raza and the departure of Blessing Muzarabani for county cricket.

2018 record:

Tests: P 2 W1 L1

Ranking: 10

ODIs: P 27 W6 T 1 L 20

Ranking: 11

T20Is: P9 W0 L9

Ranking: 12

High

Recording their first away Test win in 17 years. In Sylhet’s debut Test in November, Zimbabwe crushed Bangladesh by 151 runs to record their first Test win in five years. Chasing 321, Bangladesh were bowled out for 169 on day four. It was Sikander Raza who triggered a slide with the first breakthrough for his team when he pinned Liton Das on 23. The hosts lost their final five wickets in quick time, inside 17 overs with Brandon Mavuta running through their middle order. He finished with figures of 4/21 from his 10 overs as Zimbabwe recorded just their third victory away from home.

Zimbabwe beat Bangladesh at Sylhet for their first away win in 17 years.
Zimbabwe beat Bangladesh at Sylhet for their first away win in 17 years.

Low

What should have been a walk in the park for the hosts turned out to be one of their lowest moments on a cricket field. Needing just a win against the UAE, Zimbabwe failed to chase down a revised target of 230 runs, managing 226/7 in 40 overs leaving a packed Harare Sports Club in utter disbelief. Needing 15 to win in the final over of their chase, Zimbabwe scored 11 runs. With that defeat, their chances of making the quadrennial effectively ended.

The next contest between Afghanistan and Ireland was supposed to be a dead rubber but Zimbabwe’s defeat resulted in it becoming a virtual knockout. A low-scoring tie would have cleared the passage for Zimbabwe but that wasn’t to be the case.

Top performer

While Zimbabwe touched a new low as a team, their former captain and veteran batsman Brendan Taylor continued to be their bright spot. Against Bangladesh, he became just the 11th batsman in Test history to score a century in each innings of a Test match on two different occasions. He scored 110 and 106 against in Dhaka to join an exclusive club that boasts of the likes of Jacques Kallis, Rahul Dravid, Kumar Sangakkara, Matthew Hayden, Herbert Sutcliffe among others. During the two-Test series, Taylor scored 246 runs at an average of 82. In 21 ODIs, he scored 898 runs, the fifth highest tally in 2018 with two centuries and four fifties.

Brendan Taylor made 110 and 106* as Zimbabwe were beaten by 218 runs
Brendan Taylor made 110 and 106* as Zimbabwe were beaten by 218 runs. @AFP

One to watch

Brandon Mavuta debuted for Zimbabwe across formats during the year and has made an immediate impression. The leg-spinning allrounder has shown he can hold his own against the top teams. In his debut Test, against Bangladesh, he was the top-performer with the ball in the second innings, finishing with figures of 4/21, securing a historic win. Before that, during a limited-overs tour of South Africa, he finished with four wickets in three-ODI series including 2/48 from 10 overs. He gave an account of his batting credentials with 18 off 17 to help Zimbabwe cross the 200-run mark in the third ODI. Zimbabwe coach Lalchand Rajput called the 21-year-old Mavuta as one of the positives from the South Africa tour.

Lined up in 2019

July: 3 ODIs, 3 T20Is vs Ireland (Away)