HARARE - THERE is a special bond between English cricket and Zimbabwe for all the animosity that has characterised the relationship between the two countries, when it has come to this game, in the past dozen or so years.
It needed a former Zimbabwean captain, Duncan Fletcher, to help England end 18 years of waiting for Ashes success in their flagship battles against Australia in September 2005.
Fletcher, who captained Zimbabwe at the country’s first World Cup show in England in 1983, was the coach in charge of the English team that powered to a 2-1 victory in the Ashes in 2005.
For more than a dozen years, the English cricketers had failed to beat the Aussies in the Ashes until Fletcher arrived on the scene and transformed them into believers and winners of this great contest.
A year earlier, England had shown their pedigree and vast improvement under Fletcher as they won a record eight consecutive Test matches before they provided the cherry through the Ashes success story.
Then, in 2009, another former Zimbabwe captain, Andy Flower, arrived to take charge of England and the team again won the Ashes 2-1 before adding the 2010 ICC World Twenty20 tournament.
An even more impressive 3-1 Ashes success story followed for England in the 2010/2011 season as Flower, for the first time 24 years, ensured the English victory in this grand context had a difference of more than two Tests.
Given the way the Zimbabwean connection has constantly featured on occasions when English cricket is celebrating a milestone, it was probably not surprising when another gem plucked from the old empire emerged this week on a special occasion for the game in that European nation.
The first of five Tests between England and India, which started on Wednesday last week, marked the 1000th Test for the Englishmen in a journey which has seen them winning 357 times, losing 297 times and drawing 345 times.
And, of course, there was a Zimbabwean connection to the special story.
Twenty-year-old Sam Curran, who played for the Zimbabwe Under-13 team six years ago at the Cricket South Africa Under-13 Week, was drafted into the England team for the battle against the powerful Indians.
The left-handed batsman and left arm fast medium bowler, made his Test debut for England on June 1 this year in a match against Pakistan.
He was the 686th player to make his Test debut for England.
And last week, he was thrown into the battle against the Indians for only his second Test in a fledgling career.
The Surrey all-rounder is the son of former Zimbabwe cricket star, Kevin, who died in Mutare on October 10, 2010, after he collapsed while he was jogging.
His brother Tom had also played for England in the past.
Zimbabwe has always prided itself as one of the world’s greatest nurseries of sports talent as the country has given the globe some of its best stars who have gone to star for other countries.
Rugby union superstar, Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira has already clocked more than 100 Test appearances for South Africa while also playing 150 matches for his Durban franchise Sharks.
Another Zimbabwe-born rugby star, David Pocock, has established himself as one of the best players to feature for Australia in recent years and even captained the Wallabies.
Sam Curran is the latest in a long line of sportspersons with Zimbabwean links to take his bow in the colours of another country.
Interestingly, he came face-to-face with India’s batting superstar Virat Kohli who would have been his teammate at Surrey had the Indian skipper not pulled out of his county contract because of injury.
“I was pretty excited when he was meant to be my teammate at Surrey and l was expecting to be laughing at the other county bowlers," Curran told Cricinfo.
“Now, if l get the chance it will be my chance to get taken down, it will be fun.
“Bowling at Kohli is probably like what other teams think like bowling at England at the moment, particularly on these wickets.
“It’s been a pretty special couple of weeks. Wouldn’t have thought it at the start of the summer, thought l’d just deal with my Surrey stuff but that’s how things go, you just get on a roll and ride the rollercoaster and just try and enjoy it.
“Watching Jimmy (James Anderson) and Broad (Stuart Broad) on the sofa and the next thing l know l’m standing at mid-on watching while they are streaming in, it’s pretty surreal, l won’t forget.
“You want to play against these big names and test yourself, find out where you need to improve.
“All the Surrey boys were gutted he didn’t come because we were expecting some big crowds and learning the way he trains, apparently he is a freak in the gym, so it would have been special to work with him.”
This is an intense high-stakes battle with all the eyes of the cricket world zoomed on this contest between an English side that is difficult to beat in home conditions and an Indian side full of some of the world’s best players.
For Sam Curran to be part of the show, on this special occasion of England’s 1000th Test match, is really special.
But he knows that in this brutal world and brutal game it’s all about performance and there is no room for failure.