Bengaluru, April 25: They had already done something extraordinary in the previous World Cup.
Making their debut in the showpiece event as an associate member, Zimbabwe had stunned Australia by 13 runs in their first game in the 1983 World Cup and also had cornered India till Kapil Dev’s incredible knock bailed them out.
In 1987, Zimbabwe were back into the tournament for the second time. This time, the Africans were led by their No.11 John Traicos, aged 40 then. Zimbabwe faced New Zealand in the first match of the tournament in Hyderabad on October 10. With Australia having beaten India the previous day, it was a golden opportunity for Zimbabwe to pick the earliest points and go up the table.
Traicos won the toss and sent the Kiwis to bat first and propelled by opener Martin Snedden’s 64 and Martin Crowe’s 72 down the order, they put up a total of 242 for seven in 50 overs. Captain Jeff Crow’s 25-ball 31 and wicket-keeper-batsman Ian Smith’s 20-ball 29 not out gave their innings a late flourish. Three bowlers took two wickets apiece for the Zimbabweans.
The Africans had a horrible start to their chase, losing the first wicket for eight that brought their keeper-batsman Dave Houghton to the crease. Aged 30 then, Houghton had kept for the entire New Zealand innings in humid conditions and then had the job of a life in his hand. Zimbabwe kept on losing regularly at one end and by the time he crossed his personal score of 60, his team was reduced to 104 for seven. It was a foregone conclusion for many but Houghton and Iain Butchart, who had been playing for four years with little acknowledgement, thought otherwise.
The duo did an unbelievable repair work to bring Zimbabwe right back into the chase. They added 117 runs for the eighth wicket to take the score to 221 when Houghton fell for the score of 142 (137 balls; 13 fours; six sixes) which still stands to be Zimbabwe’s seventh-best individual score in ODIs.
The physical strain had taken a toll on Houghton by then, even to the extent that even drinking water was not helping him to recuperate. Yet, he went on to complete a remarkable century and was even kissed by spectator as a reward. The exhaustion had left him to hitting boundaries only since taking runs was a task beyond his ability by then.
Martin Crowe had taken a superb catch near the boundary to get rid of Houghton and even after Eddo Brandes left for a duck, Butchart and Traicos took Zimbabwe within a striking distance of a win but a terrible mix-up saw them losing their final wicket in the form of Butchart on 239, losing the match by just three runs with two balls to spare.
Though it is not always the practice, but Houghton was picked the man of the match despite ending in the losing side.