Bengaluru, April 17: Every World Cup has a story of a special feat. That one special feat makes teams and individuals, otherwise not known, memorable in the annals of history.
If the 1979 World Cup saw Sri Lanka, not a Test-playing nation then, beating India to register one of the earliest shocks of the tournament, in 1983, it was Zimbabwe's turn. An associate member then who got an opportunity to play in the World Cup just by virtue of winning the ICC Trophy the year before, the African side was simply considered minnows that could be flayed at will.
But Duncan Fletcher's side had a fire inside it that nobody could foresee. Zimbawe were clubbed with the reigning champions West Indies, 1975 runners-up Australia and yet-to-do-something India in Group B. They took on Kim Hughes' Australia in the first game of the group at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, on June 9, the day the tournament kicked off.
Hughes won the toss and sent the opponents to bat first, expecting an early fold-up and a cakewalk. But not many had really kept into consideration the fact that Zimbabwe were no novice in cricket. In their days as Rhodesia before independence in 1980, Zimbabwe had connection with first-class cricket of neighbouring South Africa and that practice gave birth to a generation of impressive cricketers in that country. Add with that the exhaustive preparations that Fletcher brought in for the side before they headed to England to compete with the best.
Zimbabwe openers put up 55 runs for the first wicket before they lost five wickets for 39 runs to totter at 94 for 5. Dennis Lillee and Graham Yallop polished off the top order and it looked like the match was going to be of academic interest. But skipper Fletcher, aged 34 then, decided to take the attack to the opponents' camp.
He added 70 runs for the sixth wicket with all-rounder Kevin Curran (Sam's dad) and after the latter departed for 27 off 46, added another crucial 75 runs with Iain Butchart to take the Zimbabwean score to 239 for 6 in 60 overs. Not an earth-shattering total but for a willing side, it could be enough and Zimbabwe proved it that day.
Fletcher remained unbeaten on 69 from 84 balls while Butchart took 38 balls for his 34 not out. It wasn't the best of the days as far as Australia's fielding was concerned but Zimbabwe didn't complain.
As Australia started their chase, it was a slow affair. Kepler Wessels, who later captained South Africa in the WC, took 130 balls for his 76 while his opening partner Graeme Wood took 60 balls for his 31. It was Fletcher again, this time with the ball, who made inroads into the Australian innings. He claimed four of the top five batters while Wessels was run out.
From 61 for no loss, Australia suddenly found themselves at 138 for 5 and the run-rate was only heading north. It was all left to wicket-keeper Rodney Marsh who hit a 50 off just 42 balls to pull things back for Australia but he kept on losing partners.
Allan Border fell for 17 and Geoff Lawson for duck and Marsh ended up adding an unbeaten 50 with the other Rod, Hogg, and Australia finished at 226 for 7 after 60 overs to lose by 13 runs. Fletcher was rightly picked as the man of the match and even the Australians came out congratulating them for their inspiring win.
Zimbabwe though remained at one-win in that World Cup as they failed to find the nails even after having Kapil Dev's India in the coffin in another game. But they impressed with their skills and went on to play all the World Cups since then till 2015. This year, there will be no Zimbabwe as they failed in the qualifiers, played at home last year.
To conclude with an interesting fact, Zimbabwe also beat Australia the very first time they met in a T20 World Cup (in South Africa, 2007) as they won by 5 wickets on that occasion after restricting the Aussies to a moderate total.