This year’s Boxing Day match in South Africa assumes great significance, with the hosts squaring off against Zimbabwe in the first four-day Test since Test cricket around the world was standardised to five days.
The one-off Test in Port Elizabeth is being considered by the ICC as a trial for its future potential with the rise in the number of Test-playing nations to 12 and the ever-increasing squeeze on an international calendar strewn with myriad domestic T20 leagues.
Moreover, it will also be the first day-night Test on South African soil and the first time since 2004-05 that Zimbabwe will play in their neighbouring country in whites. Despite their geographical proximity, the two teams have played each other in only eight Test matches since their first meeting in 1995-96, with South Africa winning seven of them and Zimbabwe none.
Here is a trip down memory lane to revisit four notable occurrences from this all-African fixture.
White Lightning strikes Zimbabwe – Only Test, Harare, 1995-96 –
The inaugural Test between South Africa and Zimbabwe, a one-off at the Harare Sports Club in 1995-96, was lit by a superlative bowling display from the fiery Allan Donald. Donald (3/42) combined with Brett Schultz (4/54) to help bowl Zimbabwe out for 170. It could have been worse for the hosts if not for Heath Streak’s breezy 53, as the score read 84/7 at one stage.
Andrew Hudson (135) and Brian McMillan (98*) then steered South Africa to a commanding first-innings lead of 176, despite an impressive return from left-arm seamer Bryan Strang (5/101).
Donald stole the show in the second innings, grabbing a career-best 8/71 – still the fourth-best figures by a South African pacer – to give himself 11/113 in the match and pave the way for South Africa’s comfortable seven-wicket win.
Flower blooms on the burning deck – First Test, Harare, 2001-02
Few would deny that Andy Flower has been the greatest willow wielder to play for Zimbabwe, and the Harare Sports Club in September 2001 was witness to what was arguably his finest performance.
South Africa’s top three of Herschelle Gibbs (147), Gary Kirsten (220) and Jacques Kallis (157*) toyed with the Zimbabwean bowling for the first day and a half, powering their side to a mountainous 3/600.
Zimbabwe could manage only 286 in reply, 142 of which came from Flower, who had kept wicket throughout the South African innings without conceding a single bye. He came in at 3/51 and was the last man out; Dion Ebrahim (71) was the only other batsman to show resolve. Following on 314 runs in arrears, Zimbabwe were gasping for breath at 3/25 when Flower walked out again.
Flower shared in a fourth-wicket stand of 186 with Hamilton Masakadza (85) to palliate the desperate situation and proceeded to bat for nearly ten hours, finishing unbeaten on a gallant 199 out of a total of 391 this time.
Flower’s staggering feat – he was on the field for all but 29.2 overs of the 416.4 bowled in the match – was not enough to prevent South Africa from cruising to a nine-wicket victory. Seldom has Test cricket seen such dazzling brilliance in a losing cause.
Annihilation at Newlands –First Test, Cape Town, 2004-05
Severely hampered by the controversial withdrawal of several frontline players a year earlier, Zimbabwe were rolled over inside two days by a relentless South African outfit. The Proteas pace trio of Shaun Pollock, Makhaya Ntini and Jacques Kallis combined to rout Zimbabwe for an abysmal 54, then their lowest Test total, just after lunch on the first day.
Captain Graeme Smith (121) and AB de Villiers (98) rubbed salt into the wounds by adding 217 for the first wicket at more than six an over before Kallis (54*) further demoralised the bowlers by smashing the fastest Test fifty, from 24 balls. Smith declared overnight at 3/340, piled at an astonishing run rate of 6.80.
Zimbabwe did better on the second day, scoring 265 thanks to Dion Ebrahim (72) and Andy Blignaut (61), and the Test was done and dusted well before stumps.
A debut to remember for Dane Piedt – Only Test, Harare, 2014
Zimbabwe made a decent fist of their first innings in their first Test against South Africa in more than nine years, riding on Brendan Taylor’s 93 to post 256. While Dale Steyn (5/46) was statistically the visitors’ best bowler, debutant off-spinner Dane Piedt displayed his talent with 4/90, all his scalps being among the top five batsmen.
After South Africa gained a first-innings lead of 141, with Faf du Plessis (98) and Quinton de Kock (81) putting on 119 for the fifth wicket, Piedt was in the thick of things again. The second innings saw him snare 4/62 as Zimbabwe collapsed from 2/98 to 181 all out, handing South Africa a facile nine-wicket win.
Piedt’s match returns of 8/152 earned him the man of the match award, and are the best bowling figures by a South African spinner on Test debut.