The landlocked African nation known as Zimbabwe is a young nation in the cricketing landscape. Formerly known as Rhodesia, the country was fairly active in the international cricket community.
After transitioning from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe in 1980, it didn’t take long for the country to join cricket community as an official associate member in 1981.
Zimbabwe were active in the ODI game, taking part in the 1983, 1987 and 1992 World Cups, before being granted full membership in 1992 and being able to take part in Test cricket.
Despite only a short tenure in Test cricket, they have a number of international quality players.
They are players like David Houghton, their first Test captain, and Heath Streak, their leading wicket taker all time and a fantastic all-rounder.
But the most prominent of them all was Andy Flower, who at one point was considered the best batsman in the world.
Zimbabwe never enjoyed a great deal of success in the Test arena, only achieving a Test ranking of eighth and only winning 13 of the 117 Tests they have played.
Zimbabwe were a competitive side in the ODI format, in fact they won their first ever game against Australia in the 1983 World Cup in a stunning upset.
Their Test start wasn’t as successful. Their first Test win wouldn’t come until January of 1995, a resounding innings defeat of Pakistan powered by hundreds from the Flower brothers.
However, it was the only win in their first 30 matches.
By the mid 1990s as Zimbabwe began to mature as a cricket nation, they began to unearth some international quality talent and their successes in both Test and ODI cricket became more consistent.
They won more regularly and generally were a competitive nation.
Unfortunately, the rise of Zimbabwean cricket coincided with a deterioration of the political landscape at home, culminating in players, including Andy Flower, protesting the death of democracy in Zimbabwe in 2003.
These players were promptly banned and it heralded an era of player protests and walkouts, political interference and severe financial stresses – all of which crippled what was looking like a promising future.
Despite a short history in the Test arena and a tumultuous history post-2003, there have been a number of great players to have represented Zimbabwe and I have attempted to whittle them down to an XI.
Alistair Campbell (60 Tests, average 27.21, highest score 103)
He was an elegant, attacking, left-handed batsman. He was at one point the youngest Zimbabwean to score a first-class hundred.
He made the World Cup side at the age of 19. While his Test career wasn’t as strong as his ODI career, he was still a very talented player and even captained the side during its rise towards the end of the 1990s.
Grant Flower (67 Tests, average 29.54, highest score 201*)
Statistically he is Zimbabwe’s most successful opener. His highest score was a pivotal part of Zimbabwe’s first Test match win.
He was known for playing the anchor role and allowing stroke players to play around him. He was a mainstay of the batting order for over a decade.
He was an excellent fielder and a competent left-arm spinner. He brought many skills to the table for his national side. He is also the only batsman to carry his bat in both Test and ODI cricket.
Hamilton Masakadza (38 Tests, average 30.04, highest score 158)
He had a Test career that was impacted by Zimbabwe’s six-year exile from Test cricket. He erupted onto the scene, becoming the youngest Zimbabwean to score a first-class hundred at just 16, beating Campbell’s earlier mark.
He was also the first black Zimbabwean to do so. In 2001 he became the youngest player to score a century on debut against the West Indies, at just 17 years old.
He scored his second Test century a decade after his first in Zimbabwe’s first Test match back after their exile against Bangladesh.
He was a fine front-foot player who added a fantastic hook and pull shot to his game as he got older. He finished his career as the country’s sixth highest run scorer.
Murray Goodwin (19 Tests, average 42.84, highest score 166*)
He had a career that was cut short due to his family having trouble settling in Zimbabwe. Goodwin made quite a mark in just 19 matches.
He grew up in Perth. He was a phenomenal back-foot player and his quick feet made him effective against spin.
He debuted in 1998. He is a tale of what could have been when you look at his healthy Test average. He scored 23,000 first-class runs and 71 hundreds.
A long career with the likes of the Flower brothers and Heath Streak could have yielded impressive results for Zimbabwe.
Andy Flower (63 Tests, average 51.54, highest score 232*)
He is by far and away Zimbabwe’s most credentialed international cricketer. One of the most technically correct players of all time, he was effective against pace and spin bowling, once scoring 550 runs from just four knocks against India.
He holds the highest batting average for a Zimbabwean Test batsman and the most runs. He is the only Zimbabwean batsman to feature in the ICC’s top 100 all-time batting rankings.
His peak ranking had him ahead of players like Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar and Steve Waugh. He holds the highest score for a wicketkeeper batsman.
Unfortunately, political tensions cut his career short in 2003. For my team, I haven’t given him the gloves and I hope that it has a Kumar Sangakkara-like effect on his batting.
David Houghton (captain) (22 Tests, average 43.05, highest score 266)
Zimbabwe’s first Test captain, he had to wait until he was 35 before he could finally lead his nation in Test cricket.
He is regarded as one of the finest batsmen Zimbabwe produced. He went on to score four hundreds and four 50s in his short career.
He scored a century on debut in Zimbabwe’s maiden Test, which was a draw against India. He was the oldest debutant to score a century until Australia’s Adam Voges.
After retiring at 40, he went on to coach his nation and was known for staying loyal to his country in the face of lucrative offers.
Tatenda Taibu (wicketkeeper) (28 Tests, average 30.31, highest score 153)
Despite having an impressive enough statistical resume, I also selected Taibu for what he represented socially for his nation, serving as its first black captain.
He was the youngest captain in Test history until Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan. His career was beleaguered by many of the external pressures surrounding the team.
He left the side for two years and returned in 2007. After the six-year Test exile, Taibu was a productive lower order batsman and excellent keeper until he once again retired in 2012.
Heath Streak (65 Tests, 216 wickets, average 28.14)
Other than Flower, Streak was the next most credentialed international cricketer. With a batting average of 22 to go with his bowling, he was a very good all-rounder globally, not just for his country.
Given the lack of Test cricket Zimbabwe currently plays, his impressive wicket tally – which is 136 more than second place – may never be beaten.
He was known for extracting seam movement on even the most docile pitches. Streak carried a weak Zimbabwe attack all through their golden period.
He is the only Zimbabwean cricketer to feature on the Lord’s honours board with a 6-87.
Andy Blignaut (19 Tests, 53 wickets, average 37.05)
One of the few Zimbabwean bowlers who could crack 145 kilometres per hour, Blignaut was a bit of a wildcard, especially in the ODI game.
In the Test arena he took a five-wicket haul on debut and is also the only Zimbabwean to take a Test hat trick. He was also a powerful striker of the ball and a fine fielder, highlighting his skill.
His career was another one that was punctuated by standoffs with the corruption in the Zimbabwean cricket board and various pay disputes.
Paul Strang (24 Tests, 70 wickets, 36.02 average)
He was a fine leg-spin bowler who had an impressive arsenal at his disposal. Leg breaks, the googly, top spinners and the flipper were all at his disposal.
He improved his accuracy and control as his career went on. A chronic muscular injury to his hand cut that career short but not before he was the third leading wicket taker for Zimbabwe.
He is considered one of the finest fielders in a very good fielding side. He was also a fine lower-order batsman, completing the double of a Test match hundred and a five-wicket haul in the same game. His 8-109 are the best Test figures by a Zimbabwean bowler.
Henry Olonga (30 Tests, 68 wickets, 38.52 average)
Similar to Taibu, in addition to Olonga’s cricket exploits, what he represented to the nation was particularly special, being the nation’s first black cricketer.
He made his debut in Zimbabwe’s first ever win against Pakistan. He was known for bowling with impressive pace but struggled for accuracy.
He finished his career with the fourth highest wicket tally for Zimbabwe. He was another player whose career was cut short because of issues with the board when he joined Andy Flower protesting the death of democracy.
12th Man: Brendan Taylor (34 Tests, 36.25 average, highest score 171)
He is very unlucky not to have made the final XI. He was a very fine wicketkeeper-batsman in his own right.
He captained Zimbabwe after their self-imposed Test exile and scored a second-innings 100 in their return Test, becoming the second player since Houghton to score a 100 in their captaincy debut for Zimbabwe.
In the end, he missed the cut as the bulk of his best performances were against just the one team, Bangladesh. He is still a fine player and would not look out of place in the final XI.
Honourable mentions: Guy Whittall, Ray Price, Kyle Jarvis, Neil Johnson
Much of Zimbabwe’s cricket story could be summed up with ‘what could have been’.
After early struggles and accusations of being awarded Test status too early, they had begun to develop some high calibre talent and looked to be building for a stronger decade during the 2000s.
It was not to be as the precarious political situation in their home country had a devastating effect on all aspects of life, including the national cricket team.
Zimbabwe was also unlucky to miss out on some very good cricketing talent.
Graeme Hick is the most notable example, but also players like Gary Ballance, Colin de Grandhomme and the Curran brothers have all represented other nations in international cricket despite having represented Zimbabwe at some level in their youth.
Despite all the hardship in their short history, Zimbabwe have unearthed some special talent and forged a reputation for being an excellent fielding side and a team that will always compete.
Today there are some bright lights coming through. Blessing Muzarabani looks to be a very impressive international quality bowler with numbers that stack up as well as anyone in his short fledging career.
Wesley Madhevere is a young all-rounder who looks quite promising as well.
Hopefully the youth brigade can complement veterans like Sikandar Raza, Sean Williams and Craig Ervine and we can start to see another Zimbabwean resurgence and we can see them become competitive again.