The late 1990s and early 2000s were arguably the best years for Zimbabwe’s ODI fortunes. In September 2000, they beat New Zealand in a series for the first time, by 2-1 at home. Three months later, they toured New Zealand for a return three-match series. In the interim, the Kiwis had won the Champions Trophy (then known as the KnockOut) in Kenya, in the quarterfinal of which they beat Zimbabwe by 64 runs.
The aforesaid home series against New Zealand was the first for Zimbabwe under the captaincy of Heath Streak. However, after having enjoyed a successful start to his tenure as his country’s sixth captain, the pace-bowling all-rounder endured the setbacks of the Champions Trophy loss to New Zealand, a winless tri-series (against India and Sri Lanka) in Sharjah, and a 4-1 defeat in a five-match series in India.
Zimbabwe’s previous ODI assignment in New Zealand, in 1997-98, had ended in a 4-1 defeat, with their sole win being by just one run. In the ensuing three years, Zimbabwe had enriched their collective experience, with the highlight being a memorable 1999 World Cup campaign, during which they defeated India and South Africa, and narrowly missed out on reaching the semifinals for the first time.
The scene for the first ODI on January 2, 2001 was the Owen Delany Park in Taupo – this would turn out to be the last international game to be played at the multi-purpose venue. Led by Stephen Fleming, New Zealand decided to field first, and handed debuts to pace bowlers Chris Martin and James Franklin. Openers Alistair Campbell and Trevor Madondo provided a brisk start, adding 47 in just six overs.
Both batsmen fell within a run of each other, but southpaw wicketkeeper-batsman Andy Flower (80 in 88 balls), who was later named Man of the Match, thereafter combined with Stuart Carlisle (75 in 96 balls) to put Zimbabwe in control. The pair added 154 – then a Zimbabwean record for the third wicket – before late hitting from Streak further boosted the total towards an impressive 300/7 after 50 overs.
A shower revised New Zealand’s target to 281 from 43 overs. Streak derailed the chase early, removing openers Mathew Sinclair and Nathan Astle to reduce the score to 24/2. Fleming (64) battled on, but when he was sixth out at 151 to leg-spinner Brian Murphy, New Zealand’s hopes were gone. The off-spin of Doug Marillier (3/27) ensured that New Zealand were bowled out for 210 in 40 overs.
The Black Caps equalised with an eight-wicket win at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium. They fielded another debutant in the form of Jacob Oram, while Angus Mackay debuted for Zimbabwe. The visitors rode on Campbell’s 111 and Gavin Rennie’s 46* to post 236/7, before an opening stand of 153 by Sinclair (85) and Astle (89*), followed by Scott Styris’ quick 48, gave New Zealand victory with 28 balls left.
Thus, it boiled down to the decider at the iconic Eden Park in Auckland. Astle (48) and Fleming (44) steered New Zealand with a second-wicket stand of 58 after Zimbabwe won the toss, but the bowlers, led by Murphy (3/43) kept the innings in check – at 202/7 in the 43rd over, the hosts were in danger of being dismissed. Craig McMillan, who had come in at 163/4 in the 33rd over, then decided to take charge.
The Zimbabweans are a jubilant lot after defeating New Zealand in their own backyard in 2000-01 (source – Getty Images)
McMillan smote an unbeaten 75 off just 53 balls to propel the eventual total to 273/9; thanks to his efforts, the last ten overs fetched 90. Zimbabwe’s response began in dismal fashion, as Madondo was run-out off the very first ball. The score soon nosedived to 64/5 in the 16th over, with the medium pace of Styris (3/36) doing the bulk of the damage. Dirk Viljoen came out to join Andy Flower at this key stage.
The sixth-wicket stand realised 82, before Viljoen was stumped off Chris Harris for 39. This dismissal brought Streak to the middle, but when Flower was removed by Astle for a fluent 81, Zimbabwe still needed 94 from 79 balls with only three wickets in hand. However, Streak was not going to give up easily, and he found a willing partner in Travis Friend, who helped him put on a rapid 69 for the eighth wicket.
Having earlier taken 2/34 in eight overs, Streak did the star turn with the bat. After McMillan got rid of Friend and Bryan Strang in the 47th over, the equation was 19 from three overs. Streak was not deterred though – he led from the front with a career-best 79* in 67 balls (four fours and five sixes), sealing a stunning one-wicket win for Zimbabwe by carting McMillan for six off the fourth ball of the 49th over.
Streak’s exploits enabled Zimbabwe to register their first ever overseas ODI series triumph by the thinnest of margins. He was rightly named Man of the Match, and finished the series with a tally of 126 runs at 126.00 and four wickets at 23.50. The next time Zimbabwe defeated New Zealand in an ODI was also by one wicket, when they attained a target of 329 to record their highest ever chase at Bulawayo in 2011.