By Robson Sharuko
Harare - They might not have left with the trophy, but for the Australians, their short tour of Zimbabwe for the Twenty20 International Tri-Series provided some sort of redemption for their game still struggling to heal the wounds inflicted by their adventure, to this part of the world.
Four months ago, the Aussies became a subject of ridicule around the world when Cameron Bancroft was caught, live by the television cameras, tampering with the ball during the third Test against South Africa in Cape Town to trigger a sequence of damaging events that tainted the reputation of the Baggy Greens.
Captain Steve Smith, then ranked the best batsman in the world, was slapped with a 12-month ban by Cricket Australia for his part in the scandal, while vice-captain David Warner was also handed a similar punishment with Bancroft given a nine-month suspension.
Coach Darren Lehmann also announced he would be leaving his post while many of Cricket Australia’s commercial partners, including heavyweights like Qantas, Sanitarium, Magellan Financial Group, the Commonwealth Bank and Bupa – whose financial muscle has been powering the game Down Under – expressed their huge disappointment and demanded a review of the Aussie Cricket.
At the end of March, Magellan Financial Group terminated their three-year naming rights sponsorship agreement with Cricket Australia, eroding an estimated US$20 million from the game, given the contract still had two more years to run.
When Cricket Australia announced their list of 20 male cricketers who had been handed national contracts for the 2018/2019 season, on April 11, 2018, the names of Smith, Warner and Bancroft were missing and LG Electronics announced they would not renew their sponsorship of Warner with whom they had been having a partnership for four years.
ASICS, the sports apparel company also followed suit when they terminated their commercial arrangements with Warner and Bancroft while the Commonwealth Bank ended Smith’s role as their brand ambassador.
And when the Aussies toured England, last month, under a new coach, Justin Langer, they were humiliated 0-5 in the ODIs while they also lost the sole Twenty20 International amid suggestions that the players had not yet recovered from the effects of the events in South Africa.
As, if on cue, their next destination would be Southern Africa, across the Limpopo in Zimbabwe this time around, for a Twenty20 International Tri-Series that also featured the hosts and world number one ranked side Pakistan.
There were some security concerns ahead of the trip after a bomb exploded at a rally when Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa had addressed in Bulawayo, and there were even some voices who asked the Aussies not to make the trip to Harare.
But the Baggy Greens, after receiving assurances from the Zimbabwe authorities, decided to make the trip to Harare and, in more ways than one, it has provided them with a redemption exercise with a number of some positives which outweigh their failure to win the tournament.
And, as they left Harare this week after losing an explosive final against Pakistan at Harare Sports Club on Sunday, by six wickets, in a match in which Mohammad Amir took 3/33 for Pakistan while Fakhar Zaman scored 91 in response for the Asian giants who are the best team in the world in this format.
But there were some big positives for the Aussies.
Opener Aaron Finch became the first player in the history of Twenty20 Internationals to break the 900-point mark during the series in which he also scored a record-breaking century against Zimbabwe.
“He moved up three places to finish the Tri-series in Harare against Pakistan and Zimbabwe as the top-ranked batsman in the shortest format of the game,” the International Cricket Council said in a statement.
“Finch, who captained Australia to the final, had touched the 900-point mark following his record-breaking knock of 172 (76b, 10x6, 16x4) against Zimbabwe in Harare on 3 July.
“The 31-year-old from Victoria eventually finished the T20Is (also comprising a one-off against England at Edgbaston) in number-one position on 891 points.
“Finch had started the T20Is in fourth position on 763 points and a tour aggregate of 391 runs not only helped him leapfrog Babar Azam, Colin Munro and Glen Maxwell, but also earned him 128 points.
“In the latest player rankings, which also takes into account India’s 2-0 and 2-1 series win against Ireland and England, respectively, Finch leads Pakistan’s left-handed opener Fakhar Zaman by 45 points.
“Like Finch, Fakhar was in stellar form in Harare, when he totaled 278 runs in the series, including a match-winning 91 against Australia after Pakistan had slumped to two for two after being set a victory target of 184.
“Fakhar’s string of good scores, that also included knocks of 61, six, 47 and 73, have helped him vault 44 places to claim second position. He has now become Pakistan’s highest-ranked batsman after Babar Azam slipped from first to fifth due to his absence because of an injury.”
India’s KL Rahul’s scores of 70, 101 not out, six and 19 have made him India’s highest-ranked batsman after he moved up nine places to a career-high third position.
Rohit Sharma is in 11th rank (up by two places) and Captain Virat Kohli is in 12th rank (down by four places).
“Australia’s D'Arcy Short, Jason Roy of England and Solomon Mire have also achieved career-best rankings following the latest update,” the ICC said in their statement.
“Short has broken into the top-10 for the first time in his career in 10th position, moving up 18 places. Roy has gained 19 places and is now in 15th spot, while Mire has rocketed 202 places to claim 25th position – seven places behind Hamilton Masakadza.
“In the bowling table, Rashid Khan of Afghanistan and Shadab Khan of Pakistan have retained the top two positions, but there have been a number of movements down the order with Australia’s Andrew Tye and Billy Stanlake, and England’s trio of Adil Rashid, Liam Plunkett and David Willey achieving career-high rankings.
“Tye has risen 41 places to seventh in the latest rankings after taking 12 wickets in Harare, Rashid has claimed ninth position after moving up four places, Plunkett has gained 14 places and is now in 11th spot, Willey has risen 12 places to 15th and Stanlake’s seven wickets have given him a leap of 60 places that has put him in 19th position.”