Australia v Zimbabwe, World Cup, 1983

Duncan's day

Zimbabwe sold cakes and worked as bouncers to make it to the World Cup. Then they shocked Australia in their first game

Interviews by Simon Lister  |  
A captain's innings from Duncan Fletcher

A captain's innings from Duncan Fletcher © Getty Images

Dave Houghton, Zimbabwe wicketkeeper: Before independence in 1980 our cricket history was as Rhodesia, playing in the South African Currie Cup, which was a very, very strong first-class tournament. We had a nucleus of people who'd been playing some seriously hard cricket.

Kim Hughes, Australia captain: We knew nothing about them at all. There was no video analysis or anything like that. We said, "We'll find out what they're like when we get out there on the park."

John Traicos, Zimbabwe offspinner: We tended to underrate ourselves. We went into every game thinking we were the minnows but that we would fight like hell to try to beat the opposition. I'd say we were a determined and fit side but one that didn't really know where it stood in world cricket.

The Zimbabwe captain was Duncan Fletcher, a 34-year-old allrounder. He was insistent that his side should be as well prepared as possible.

Andy Pycroft, Zimbabwe batsman: Fletcher the England coach was very different from what we knew. He smiled, joked and was one of the lads. I don't know where that jowly expression came from later. He was actually a very relaxed guy, who liked to have a party.

Houghton: Duncan took over and really changed things from what had been an amateurish group of good players playing first-class cricket who liked a nice beer before the game, a nice beer after the game, and a few gentle nets.

Traicos: I think probably he took on the role that Mike Procter had done for Rhodesia in the 1970s. He played it tough but he did everything himself that he expected of others.

Pycroft: An incredibly good leader, so good at one-on-one. But he didn't suffer fools gladly and those who didn't work hard under the regime were discarded. There were a few casualties along the way because of that.

The regime included weightlifting and baseball… and some baking.

Houghton: Duncan brought in an ex-Springbok rugby player called Ian Robertson and it all came as a bit of a shock.

Traicos: Ian trained us as if we were actually going to play a rugby international.

Pycroft: Ian has since admitted he probably over-trained us and we ended up fitter than the rugby players. It was gruelling. Duncan also got baseball pitchers to throw balls at us to get us used to the extra pace. That was fine, except when they chucked beamers.

If Zimbabwe were to make the World Cup, other things had to happen too.

Traicos: We relied totally on sponsorship and fund-raising. For instance, all our Man-of-the-Match prizes at home, the bloke would give them to the Cricket Union.

Houghton: We had raffles, sold ties and cufflinks. Then every second week someone in the squad had to bake two dozen cakes. I shared the responsibility with my wife. She made 23, I made one.

Jack Heron, Zimbabwe opener: Our cook would make a hundred cakes a week to sell.

Houghton: What else was there? We had beer festivals and we were even paid to work as bouncers at a casino and our wages went into the tour pot.

Traicos: There was a real sort of country-folk feel to it all. Great unity and a great sense of purpose.

It was not something that Australia enjoyed.

Hughes: We were far from being a really good side. Dennis Lillee was coming towards the end of his career, Jeff Thomson had seen better days. Same with Rod Marsh - he wasn't the batsman he used to be. We had Rodney Hogg and Geoff Lawson, but realistically they couldn't bat - pretty ordinary batters. Same applied to Dennis Lillee. So if we were six or seven down, we were all out.

Pycroft: I do remember that their side was split: those who were prepared to listen to Kim Hughes and those who weren't. The Western Australian guys wouldn't give him the time of day. I remember in the nets the quicks trying to bounce the hell out of him.

Hughes: Our attitude to one-day cricket was that we played it but we didn't respect it much at all. We were always a bit negative: "Aw, bugger this, why can't we play a Test match?" We thought that was the game where you were judged. We didn't embrace the change or work on our skills. We played it because we were told to.

Nonetheless, when Zimbabwe lost the toss at Trent Bridge and were asked to bat in their first-ever World Cup match, there was much apprehension.

Houghton: There was a massive nervousness in our side. I remember seeing our two opening batsmen and they couldn't speak. They were both very talkative blokes and they both couldn't speak. It was just a big eye-opener. Suddenly I was about to play against my heroes, who I'd only seen on TV. We didn't see how we were going to beat these men.

Traicos: I think everyone was frightened. They had some big names there and so they rightly felt superior.

But they started all right. The openers stayed in.

Heron: The plan was to try to build an innings, run well between the wickets and then later to field as well as we could. We knew other sides would have to hit the ball well to get it past us.

Pycroft: We actually had a damned good side and covered all of the bases other than having a very fast bowler.

"There was a massive nervousness in our side. I remember seeing our two opening batsmen, who were both very talkative blokes, and they both couldn't speak Dave Houghton, Zimbabwe wicketkeeper

Houghton: I seem to remember Jeff Thomson did all he could to help us by bowling so wide of the leg stump that it went for four. So we were going along at a half-decent rate but it wasn't because we were putting the bowlers back over their heads. We were just knocking it and running around a bit. Don't forget, too, that it was 60-over cricket and they came at you with three slips and a gully, so there was space for outside edges to go to the boundary.

But from 55 for no wicket, Zimbabwe became 94 for 5 at lunch. The wickets fell in clusters.

Pycroft: I don't know if anyone else has experienced this but I faced two hat-trick balls that morning. Must be some sort of record. Then I was bowled by Allan Border the last ball before lunch. I don't reckon you'll believe me but it pitched outside leg and hit off stump.

Houghton: Mine was an interesting one. I nicked it first ball. Marshy went to throw it in the air in celebration and it dropped on the ground. The umpire gave me not out and I was surrounded by Australian players who mentioned quite a few things about me and my family before telling me I should be leaving the field. I said: "What do you want me to do? He dropped it and now I've been given not out." Then they surrounded the square-leg umpire and all I saw was his finger raised above their heads.

After lunch Zimbabwe did better. They had a captain's innings to enjoy.

Heron: It was a courageous captain's innings. We hadn't batted that well.

Houghton: Duncan was really good under pressure. If you were 200 for 3 and he came in at five, he'd get nothing. But if you were 10 for 3, he'd get 90. The other thing he had, like a lot of Zimbabweans after him, was the ability to smack the spinners.

Traicos: Duncan was able to read the game so well and as a batsman he could change it. He liked to play shots. He'd played in the Lancashire League and that had helped him. He could go over the top and he ran well. That day he had two critical partnerships, with Iain Butchart and Kevin Curran.

There were partnerships of 70 and 75 for the sixth and seventh wickets.

Houghton: Iain and Duncan put them to the sword a bit in the last 10 overs. In fact, if Iain Butchart was 25 today he'd be a wealthy man from Twenty20. I've never seen anyone hit the ball so cleanly at the end of an innings.

Australia needed 240 to win from 60 overs.

Heron: We were still in the game and with our bowlers we thought we could make a go of it, perhaps rattle their cage if nothing else.

Houghton: "At least we haven't let ourselves down here," that was my thought. The possibility of taming the Australian batting never crossed my mind.

Pycroft: They had a hell of a good batting side: six left-handers. But we knew we had a bowling attack that was good to left-handers. Traicos, Vince Hogg and Duncan.

Heron: They never really got away from us. I don't remember any sense of alarm that they were disappearing, we started picking up the odd wicket. Then Traicos tied it up. David Hookes played lots of drives and attacking shots but we cut them off and I can remember him getting frustrated.

Houghton: I think we wanted to keep Kepler Wessels in because he was blocking the hell out of it at one end.

Traicos: There seemed a lot of irritation that they didn't have their game right. They were pretty powerful characters and they were clearly not achieving what they wanted.

Hookes was out third wicket down. Australia had been batting for about two hours but had only 114. Fletcher had all three wickets.

Houghton: He bowled medium-fast. Probably no more than 75 miles an hour - outswingers and a very good offcutter. He'd reluctantly take the ball, break the partnership, then let the other bowlers get back on with it.

Heron: He was a chucker! Eddie Barlow would tell you that.

Traicos: Fletcher brought it in to those left-handers but his big thing was the cutter. Also the blockhole. He could bowl right up there with great accuracy.

Houghton: Duncan got those wickets but what I actually remember is John Traicos bowling his offies. Trikes just stole the show.

Traicos: I bowled round the wicket and into the legs. Things worked out well.

Hughes: Yeah, Traicos was a pretty good spinner. He was a class act who'd played Currie Cup cricket, Test cricket for South Africa - an outstanding bowler, not a mug.

Pycroft: They played and missed at him so often. They didn't read him. It wasn't just that he kept it tight, they simply couldn't play him.

Traicos bowled his 12 overs for 27 runs. In the field they gave him all the help they could.

Houghton: We were the best fielding side in that tournament. Before we went, Duncan told us we might not be able to compete with the bat and the ball but we would definitely be the best fielding side.

Gerald Peckover was our 12th man and he'd come on to field at fine leg in front of the members. He ran round to his right to save a four and his trousers skidded down to his knees in the dive. The thing was, he wasn't actually wearing any under-rods, but what he did was get up, throw the ball in, made sure it was a good one, and only then did he pull up his trousers.

Pycroft: Yeah, he was as quick as lightning, Gerald. An international hockey player too. Great fielder.

Like Peckover's whites, Australia had become undone. The game was changing.

Heron: I was standing next to Merv Kitchen, the umpire at square leg, and he said to me: "You buggers have got this lot worried." I replied that we had to get Rod Marsh out before we would feel comfortable. He was the one that worried me.

Houghton: Yes, they had got far behind the rate. The problem was that Rod Marsh could come in at any time and slog the game away from us. He started smashing it quite quickly. Run-a-ball stuff.

Traicos: Marsh was the key and he hit everything in the middle from the very beginning. Then I dropped him. A top edge that went up and up and up. I spent the rest of the game thinking I had cost us the match.

But another great piece of fielding sent the game Zimbabwe's way.

Dave Houghton:

Dave Houghton: "Duncan took over and really changed things from what had been an amateurish group of good players playing first-class cricket who liked a nice beer before the game" © Wisden Cricket Monthly

Traicos: The big turning point was Wessels' run-out. Jack Heron hit the wicket from side-on.

Pycroft: Brilliant run-out by Heron. Running in, one stump to aim at, from backward leg. When that happened I thought, "We're in here."

Pycroft was right. Australia were under enormous pressure, which became too great. Marsh was to remain undefeated but his side were soon beaten.

Hughes: We couldn't believe it. These bloody minnows had had the best day in their sporting life and it was our worst. And that pretty much summed up the World Cup for us - we were a long way off the pace.

Pycroft: There was this guy who had been at prep school with me and I recognised him in the crowd because he'd been running around all day with this flag and shouting at the Australians. When we won he ran on to the pitch and started embracing us all. Incredible elation in the dressing room and all our supporters - because we're like that, we Zimbos - coming through trying to meet us and then waiting for us in the pub afterwards.

Traicos: Our manager was beside himself. The Australians all came in and had a beer.

Houghton: Not only was there excitement, there was a sense of disbelief about what we'd just done.

Heron: After the game the Aussies were fantastic. They came into our dressing room and they were very decent about it.

Pycroft: My memory is very different. Other than two or three, they left straight away. They were bitterly disappointed.

It was a famous day for Zimbabwe cricket.

Houghton: It says something that a game in which you got a golden duck and didn't take a catch still rates as one of your favourite days of cricket. That's how special it was.

Pycroft: It was a very big day.

Hughes: I felt it very badly. I had to go and explain to everybody why we lost. How the bloody hell did we stuff that up? I've been trying to live it down ever since.

This article was first published in the March 2010 issue of the Wisden Cricketer. Subscribe here