13 days to World Cup: When rookies Zimbabwe sprang a surprise on Australia in 1983

If you made the obvious guess that the dream run by Kapil's Devils is the talking point here, well, you got it wrong.

Published: 17th May 2019 08:02 PM  |   Last Updated: 18th May 2019 12:37 AM   |  A+A-

Duncan Fletcher

Duncan Fletcher after Zimbabwe's epic victory against Australia (Photo | Twitter@ICC)

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Some stories need to be told with an emotional tinge and this one from the Prudential World Cup of 1983 belongs to that league. If you made the obvious guess that the dream run by Kapil's Devils is the talking point here, well, you got it wrong. The tournament had another inspiring story besides that of India bettering the Windies in a low-scoring final to establish themselves as a serious contender at the international stage.

Who?

Imagine this. A bunch of first-class players from a relatively unknown country get to play at the biggest stage possible if they can afford to sponsor a trip to another continent. With grim determination, they organised beer fests and cake sales, before signing up as part-time bouncers at local casinos to fund their national cricket body.

With some of them pitching in with the Man of the Match prize money they received from some local matches, the mission was complete - the Zimbabweans were on a plane to the UK to make their international debut!

How?

In 1983, the Caribbeans were the ruthless titans of the game with the Australians and English trying desperately to balance the scales of power. Pakistan gave glimpses of hope every now and then, and there was nobody else in the arena. India, New Zealand, Sri Lanka were all still second graders and Duncan Fletcher's Zimbabwe was pitted against the mighty Kangaroos for their first ever fixture.

The Aussies knew the Africans were armed with the lessons taught at the highly competitive Currie Cup in neighbouring South Africa. But what they didn't know, however, was that they had hired ex-Springbok rugby international Ian Robertson whose crazy workout sessions had gifted them their X factor - abundant athleticism and stamina.

Countless hours at the gym had made the Zimbabweans tireless and the best fielding side of the tournament. A 'nothing to lose' attitude combined with passable beginners luck made them an extremely dangerous customer on their day.

As it happened

Australian captain Kim Hughes decided to take the field after winning the toss at Nottingham on June 9, 1983 in the third match of the tournament. Zimbabwe's rookie openers Grant Patterson and Ali Omarshah were up against Dennis Lillee, Geoff Lawson, Jeff Thomson and Rodney Hogg. It was only a matter of time before the team from Down Under realised that their opponents were no pushovers as the openers made a solid start, surviving the new ball without suffering any blows. 

The amateurs were determined not to get scared by the legends in front of them. The openers put up 55 runs on the board before being dismissed by Lillee. Jack Heron and Andy Pycroft began the rebuilding effort as soon as they came to the crease, but it was Allan Border who gave the Australians the breakthrough, cleaning up Pycroft for 21. A double strike by Graham Yallop made sure the bowling team was in the driving seat, leaving the debutants reeling at 94-5 at tea. 

The Baggy Greens thought the initial resistance was all that Zimbabwe had in their kitty but Captain Fletcher proved them wrong with some sensible strokeplay. Finding a handy partner in Kevin Curran, the left-hander resumed his side's revolt, scoring 70 runs in the next 90 balls.

When Curran fell for 27, in came Iain Butchart, who treated the mighty opposition like high-school bowlers, hammering 34 runs off 38 deliveries. The renowned Australian attack not only failed to fetch any more wickets, but also leaked 75 runs in the last 13 overs. A proud Fletcher remained unbeaten on 69 off 84 deliveries as Zimbabwe ended up on 239/6. His innings included five boundaries, while Butchart found the rope twice.

The Australians were not ready to tolerate any more humiliation and asked their openers to proceed cautiously. They added 61 runs before Fletcher returned to hurt them again. He sent Graeme Wood packing for 31 before dismissing his Aussie counterpart for a duck! David Hookes and Yallop were the next to fall as Fletcher posted career-best figures of 4/42. 

With opener Kepler Wessels going strong at one end and Allan Border yet to walk in, the match was far from over for the Australians. But again, the Zimbabweans had done their homework so neatly that they asked Vince Hogg and John Traicos to spin the bowl away from the Aussie top-six, all left-handers.  Too many balls were left unattended and the splendid athleticism that the African team showed on the field was making it worse.

From 63-2, they slipped to 138-5, when Wessels was given run out for 76, following a miscommunication with Border. Zimbabwe held their nerves to dismiss the dangerous Border for 17 and Butchart castled Lawson for a duck to leave them in a tight spot.

Rod Marsh and Hogg unleashed a late assault, with the former reaching the half-century mark hitting three boundaries and two sixes. It was game on towards the final over with Marsh's courage holding the edge over the opposition's inexperience. But a vigilant Peter Rawson kept himself together in the last over, even after being blown away for a maximum, to restrict the Kangaroos to 226-7. History was made as Zimbabwe accomplished the seemingly impossible to make the perfect debut imaginable.

What followed?

Fletcher was rewarded with the Man of the Match for his all-round effort.  But what followed was a sort of anti-climax for the team. With their X-factor revealed and beginners luck running out, Zimbabwe crashed out of the tournament losing all the remaining five fixtures including their return clash against Australia. The closest they'd come to a positive result was limiting India to 17-5 before Kapil Dev unleashed a breathtaking 175 not out to rescue his side.

After the upset at Nottingham, it took the African side 31 years before they could beat the same opposition once again. The Elton Chigumbura-led side beat the Australians by three wickets at Harare after 29 ODI meetings in August 2014. That explains the extraordinary achievement in Nottingham in a nutshell.

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