The political turmoil and racial profiling of cricketers have cost Zimbabwe some of the best talent and its reputation as a side that could once take on the best in the world. But a lot of people would remember them as an exciting bunch of talent prior to 2003. Here we take a look at the ten greatest cricketers who have donned the Zimbabwe colours.
Duncan Fletcher is undoubtedly one of the best ever cricketers to have ever represented Zimbabwe. The former Indian head coach was Zimbabwe’s first ODI captain who led from the front during the 1983 World Cup where his excellent all-round display caused one of the biggest upsets in ODI history as the young team defeated the mighty Australians. Fletcher is regarded as a bright talent who missed out on a wonderful career and record book mentions owing to the exodus of Zimbabwe from world cricket during his playing days. He scored 4095 runs and had 215 wickets in first-class cricket.
Though his playing days were limited, Neil Johnson was a top all-rounder in international cricket. Johnson was a gifted stroke maker who could attack at will. It was his triple man-of-the-match performance during the 1999 World Cup that earned Zimbabwe their entry into the Super Six stage. His century against Pakistan fetched Zimbabwe their very first Test Series win, and Johnson was awarded the much-deserved Man of the Match Award. He was forced to cut short his international career due to the differences he had with the national board, on monetary issues, and moved on to South Africa where he played at the domestic level. In 48 ODI appearances. Johnson scored 1,679 runs with four hundreds and claimed 35 scalps.
The first black cricketer to play for Zimbabwe, Henry Olonga was a top-class bowler and was also the youngest player to represent the African nation. Though he was dropped for a suspect action, he made a strong comeback and became a permanent part of the team in last five years of his career. Along with Andy Flower, Olonga wore a black armband to protest the ‘death of democracy’ in his country during the 2003 World Cup, which brought an abrupt end to his career. Olonga took 128 wickets at the international level.
David Houghton was one of the first major stars in Zimbabwean cricket, and is internationally acclaimed for having represented Zimbabwe in two sports – cricket and hockey. He was the goalkeeper of the Zimbabwean Hockey Team, and one of the world’s best at that. He captained the team in their inaugural Test Match against India and also scored the first test ton for the country. A rock solid middle order batsmen, Houghton was known for his unique ability to play according to the situation. He had close to 3000 international runs.
Tatenda Taibu was one of the finest cricketers to have represented Zimbabwe. At a very young age of 21, Taibu was made captain of the team and had to lead an inexperienced side after reputed players called it quits following the sociopolitical situation in the nation. He played one awe-inspiring innings after another and was the lone warrior in the otherwise unskilled team. In a very successful career, Taibu made 5,198 runs and effected more than 200 dismissals as a wicket-keeper.
Brendan Taylor was one of the most inspiring players to have emerged from Zimbabwe for many years till he announced his sudden retirement from International cricket citing lack of financial security. One of only two world-class players we have seen from the African country in the last decade, along with Tatenda Taibu, Taylor has been one of the finest wicketkeeper-batsmen of the modern era. A gifted stroke maker, he scored more than 7,000 runs. His 12 international hundreds is also the most by a Zimbabwean batsman in the last decade. He led the team to three test victories as captain.
Alistair Campbell was one of the most elegant left-handers in world cricket. He became a mainstay of the team, being an aggressive opener who would always try to dominate the opposition. A born leader, Campbell has been the most successful captain for Zimbabwe to date. He led Zimbabwe cricket to its peak when they registered the first ever away series victory against Pakistan in 1998-99. He scored over 8,000 runs at the International level and has nine hundreds to his credit. A lot of credit goes to him for moulding the team to reach a relative position of strength while he was captain.
Grant Flower is one of the best cricketers to have ever represented Zimbabwe. Starting his career as an opener, Grant soon became one of the most dependable middle order batsmen in the world, often stitching memorable partnerships with his brother Andy. His seamless stroke play was truly a great sight to behold. Also an effective slow left arm spinner, he was often used to contain batsmen with his strict line and length. He is only the second Zimbabwean cricketer to make more than 10,000 runs at the International level and has 12 hundreds and more than 150 wickets to his credit.
Heath Streak is often referred to as a lion-hearted bowler, and is one of Zimbabwe’s greatest fast bowlers. He made his Test debut in 1993 and announced his arrival in style by bagging the Man of the Series award against Pakistan. Although it was during his reign as captain that Zimbabwe cricket went through its darkest chapter, the genuine all-rounder that he was, Streak scored more than 5,000 international runs and has more than 200 international wickets in both Tests and ODIs under his belt. He finished his career with a total of 455 international wickets making him a Zimbabwean legend.
Andy Flower is the only true superstar cricketer to have represented the country and one of the finest wicketkeepers of the modern era. Flower established his credentials as someone who could score runs anywhere in the world and against any bowling attack. He was one of the best exponents of the reverse sweep and played it with a touch of perfection. He led the protest against the country’s board and political leadership during the 2003 World Cup, due to which his international career came to an unfortunate end. With 11,580 runs including 16 international hundreds, Flower is the all time top run scorer for Zimbabwe. As a wicketkeeper, he has more than 300 dismissals to his credit. He also led Zimbabwe successfully and has the second highest win percentage. Andy played in every international match till 2001, before he sustained a finger injury, and this throws light on his great fitness levels.