Grim winter for Africa’s two test nations as Proteas and Chevrons are whitewashed

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Robson Sharuko

Harare - About 6,345kms and three-and-a-half hours might separate Bulawayo and the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, but the distance and time difference did not matter at all as the two cities provided the setting this week for the pain that was inflicted on fans of Zimbabwean and South African cricket teams by two Indian sub-continent powerhouses.

Pakistan powered to a comprehensive 5-0 whitewash of hosts Zimbabwe in an ODI series in which the former World Champions showed that there is a huge gulf in class between them and a Chevrons side that went into battle weakened by the absence of a number of key players for various reasons.

And, on the Indian Ocean island of Sri Lanka, the hosts completed a comprehensive 2-0 Test series victory over a South African side that had arrived on the Indian Ocean island walking with a spring in their step after a great performance against Australia on home soil.

Records tumbled at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo in what was a mismatch of an ODI series between the rampant Pakistan side and a lightweight Zimbabwean team whose shortcomings at such a grand stage were crudely exposed by both the Asian side’s attack and destructive batsmen,

Opening batsman Fakhar Zaman became the fastest man to reach 1,000 runs in One Day Internationals after destroying a Zimbabwean attack, without injured pace spearhead Kyle Jarvis and whose other key members – Graeme Cremer and Sikandar Razza were absent for other reasons - that never came to terms with his sheer brilliance.

The 28-year-old arrived in Zimbabwe with a great pedigree, even after arriving on the big stage late, with his scores of 31, 50, 57 and 114, in the final against bitter rivals India of all teams, at the ICC Champions Trophy in England a remarkable display of his quality.

By the time the fifth ODI arrived in Bulawayo, with Pakistan leading 4-0, Zaman already had 980 runs under his belt, in the 17 innings he had featured in for his country, and when he found the boundary off a delivery from Tendai Chatara last Sunday, he reached the 1,000 run mark faster than any other player in ODI cricket history.

Zaman had needed just 18 innings to reach the milestone, three innings less than his countryman Babar Azam had needed to get to that magical mark, and given that he had made his ODI debut just a year ago, performance in putting the Zimbabweans to the sword was just magical.

He started his Zimbabwean adventure with a 60 and then scored an unbeaten 117, an unbeaten 43 and an unbeaten 210 ahead of the final ODI on Sunday with the double century being only the eighth in ODI cricket and taking him into the exclusive company of Martin Guptill, Chris Gayle, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Rohit Sharma who has done it three times.

By the time the ODI series against Zimbabwe ended, Zaman had scored 515 runs, the most by a batsman in the history of ODI cricket in a bilateral series, and his average was a whopping 257.50 in a dream series in which he was only dismissed twice and became the highest scoring Pakistani batsman in a series.

The Chevrons of Zimbabwe have been in turmoil since a failed bid to qualify for the ICC Cricket World Cup in England next year destroyed the unity that had bonded the team together in an adventure in which they also received the full backing of the country with thousands of fans packing the stadiums to cheer them on.

In sharp contrast, the Proteas of South Africa have been flying high after coming from behind to beat Australia in their last Test series while a number of their key players, including Kagiso Rabada, had established themselves among the very best in the world.

In January last year, the Proteas destroyed Sri Lanka by an innings-and 118 runs, in a Test that lasted just three days, with the Asian side losing 16 wickets on the final day at the Wanderers in Johannesburg.

The Sri Lankans found themselves being bowled out for 131 and 177 as South Africa’s pace attack destroyed their batting line-up to complete a 3-0 whitewash with the then captain Angelo Matthews describing it as his worst day as the skipper of the Asian side.

A few months later, Matthews was gone, having quit the captaincy of the side after a demoralising home defeat at the hands of Zimbabwe in an ODI series, the Chevrons’ first victory over the Asians

But, somehow, the Sri Lankans found a way to turn on the style in their Test showdown against the Proteas as they powered to a 2-0 Test series victory with the South Africans struggling badly to deal with the spinners.

The first Test in Galle lasted only three days while the second Test was also dominated by the hosts with a battling hundred by Theunis de Bruyn the only bright spot for the visitors.

South African captain Faf du Plessis, who suggested that visiting teams should be given the option to choose whether to bat or field, to make Test cricket competitive, said the home team were more comfortable in their conditions on the turning wickets and that made the difference.

“I don’t think we play spin badly, but if you compare yourself to the subcontinent batters, then they’re obviously a step above us in that regard,” South African captain Faf du Plessis told reporters.

“That’s where the challenge lies for the South Africa’s and the England’s and the Australia’s of the world.”

It has not been a pretty winter for the only two countries who play Test cricket in Africa.

 

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