Zimbabwe's Test debut begins on highly sluggish note against India at Harare in 1992

Dave Houghton (left) with Mohammad Azharuddin at the time of the toss © Getty Images

Zimbabwe’s Test debut was a slow-burning affair as they played hosts to India at Harare on October 18, 1992. It was a historic moment for the nation and after the match they could hold their heads up high as they held the upper hand over an established Indian side for most parts. Shrikant Shankar revisits Zimbabwe’s birth as a Test-playing nation.

Many countries have made their Test debut against India. Pakistan and Bangladesh made their foray into the five-day format against the sub-continent giants. Zimbabwe became another team to have started off in the longest format of the game against the Men in Blue (white flannels in Tests obviously). For a team who made their One-Day International (ODI) debut in 1983, this was a historic moment. They played hosts to India at Harare on October 18, 1992.

Ironically, not all 11 members of that Zimbabwe team made their debuts. Off-spinner John Traicos was a man who had made his Test debut on February 5, 1970 against Australia, but for South Africa. He played three Tests for them, before they were banned from playing international cricket due to their country’s apartheid rule. The gap between his third and fourth matches was 22 years and 222 days — a Test record. The team was captained by Dave Houghton and had the likes of Grant and Andy Flower, Alistair Campbell, Eddo Brandes and Andy Pycroft to name a few.

India were led by Mohammad Azharuddin and had a star-studded line-up including Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath, Sanjay Manjrekar and Ravi Shastri. What unfolded in the next five days did not go according to the script. Houghton won the toss and elected to bat first on a lifeless pitch. Kevin Arnott and Grant Flower opened the batting for Zimbabwe. They faced the great, but aging, Kapil Dev and Manoj Prabhakar. Srinath came in as first change. In the spin department, India had the services of Venkatapathy Raju, Kumble and Ravi Shastri.

The openers held their own against the Indian bowlers and put together a 100-run opening stand. The pace, however, set by the duo was followed right throughout the match. They went at a snail’s pace. Arnott was the first man dismissed for 40 caught by WV Raman off Kumble’s bowling. He took 176 balls to get to his 40 runs, which included six fours. Then came in Campbell, who added 75 runs with Grant for the second wicket. Campbell also fell just short of a half-century as he was dismissed leg-before for 45 by Kapil.

Then India struck with two quick wickets. Grant (82) edged one from Srinath to wicketkeeper Kiran More and Mark Burmester (7) fell to Prabhakar. Zimbabwe were reduced to 199 for four. But they were not deterred as Pycroft and Houghton added 53 for the fifth wicket. Pycroft also fell to Prabhakar. Then the Indian bowlers had to toil hard as the sun beat down upon them. Andy Flower joined Houghton to continue Zimbabwe’s charge.

Although the scoring was very slow, they looked solid and did not look like letting the Indian bowlers through. By the time Andy Flower was dismissed, Zimbabwe had crossed the 400-run mark. Andy Flower (59 off 201 balls) was bowled by Prabhakar to give him his third wicket of the innings. The pain-staking innings only had three fours in it. The partnership was worth 165 runs. Houghton carried on to reach to a well-made century on debut. But he was dismissed for 121 off 322 balls by Srinath. He struck 15 fours in his innings.

After that the Zimbabwe innings folded quickly as were bowled out for 456. Srinath and Kumble had got three wickets-a-piece. By the time the Zimbabwe innings finished it was already Day Three. The Indian innings did not start all that well. Shastri was dismissed for 11 off 63 balls by Burmester. His opening partner Raman and Manjrekar added 48 for the second wicket. Raman’s cautious 43 off 164 balls ended as he was bowled by left-arm seamer Gary Crocker. Then came the moment for Traicos, the veteran. He got the prized wicket, even then, of Tendulkar for a three-ball duck caught and bowled. Azharuddin and Raju also fell quickly and India’s score was 101 for five.

Kapil joined Manjrekar in the middle and the duo added a crucial 96 runs for the sixth wicket. Kapil defied belief and batted quickly. His 60 runs came off only 95 balls. This also included nine fours. He was finally bowled by Traicos. Prabhakar (14) also did not last long as he was Traicos’s third wicket. Majrekar finally got some good support from More as they added 68 runs for the eighth wicket. Manjrekar scored his fourth and last Test century. His innings included seven fours, but came off an extraordinary 422 balls. Manjrekar’s century was the fourth slowest in Test cricket.

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John Traicos (above) picked up five wickets in the match, including the scalp of Sachin Tendulkar © Getty Images

India were soon bowled out for 307 and handed Zimbabwe an impressive 149-run first innings lead. The slow batting ensured that the match by then had already gone into the fifth day and there was only time left for Zimbabwe to bat out the match. Their second innings finished at 146 for four. Arnott scored 32, Pycroft scored 46 and Houghton was unbeaten on 41. The match was drawn. The result definitely gave Zimbabwe a boost and made India look below-par.

Brief scores:

Zimbabwe 456 (Grant Flower 82, Dave Houghton 121, Andy Flower 59; Manoj Prabhakar 3 for 66, Anil Kumble 3 for 79, Javagal Srinath 3 for 89) and 146 for 4 (Andy Pycroft 46, Dave Houghton 41*; Kapil Dev 2 for 22) drew with India 307 (Sanjay Manjrekar 104, Kapil Dev 60; John Traicos 5 for 86, Mark Burmester 3 for 78).

(Shrikant Shankar previously worked with Mobile ESPN, where he did audio commentary for many matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20. He has also written many articles involving other sports for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)