A brief history of cricket in Rhodesia and Zimbabwe
By brmtaylor.com admin (December 3, 2007)

To view the history in timeline format, please go to the timeline page.

Fort Victoria, now Masvingo, was the first colonial town set up in Rhodesia. It was set up in 1890 by settlers en route to Salisbury, now Harare. Fort Victoria was the home of the very first cricket match to be played in Rhodesia, it took place on August 12, 1890 between members of the Pioneer Column, a group raised by Cecil Rhodes in his attempt to colonise Mashonaland.

In 1891, the Salisbury Cricket Club was created, as well as the first cricket league in the country. Three years later, Bulawayo followed suit and three clubs were formed. In 1895, a Salisbury team travelled to Bulawayo to play the first inter-provincial cricket match in Rhodesian history. This was an annual event for many years.

In 1897, Salisbury Sports Club was formed. The club is still in use today, known as Harare Sports Club.

In 1899, Lord Martin Bladen Hawke, who went on to play 633 First Class matches, led an English team to Rhodesia for several friendly matches. Cape Colony politician, James Douglas Logan, a keen cricket fan who went on to play four First Class matches for South Africa, asked Lord Hawke to purchase a trophy in England and bring it to Rhodesia, which the players could contest in a domestic competition. Lord Hawke obliged, and from 1903 onwards Rhodesian provincial teams contested the Logan Cup. It is still contested today by Zimbabwean provincial teams.

In 1900, the Vigne Cup began being contested for. The Vigne Cup is contested by sides in Mashonaland, mostly in the Salisbury greater metropolitan area. It is still contested today by teams in and around Harare.

Due to WWI, there was very little cricket played in Rhodesia between the mid 1910's and early 1920's. The only surviving pre-war player who continued to play cricket was Tom Bourdillon, which forced Rhodesia to look to a new generation of players.

During World War II, a lot of cricket was played in Rhodesia as there was a Royal Air Force training base in the country. Virtually none of the cricket played was classed First Class cricket. At the end of the war, as was so often the case in the mid 20th century, Transvaal sent a team across the Limpopo to play a Rhodesian team.

In the 1946-47 season, Rhodesia played in the South African Currie Cup competition - a tradition which lasted until the 1980 independence.

In 1960, Rhodesia played a match again an Australian representative team led by Richie Benaud, which they lost.

In 1965, Ian Smith embarked on a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) which left the country feeling uncertain. Cricket was largely unaffected, but the UDI led to many players moving overseas. UDI also led to international sanctions imposed against Rhodesia, and touring teams would no longer visit. Rhodesia's participation in South Africa's Currie Cup remained unaffected. The late 1960's saw the rise of Jackie du Preez.

Things picked up in 1970, with Garry Sobers playing in a double wicket competition in Rhodesia, and Mike Procter joining the national team. After coming very close to winning the Currie Cup on two occasions in the early 70's, the Rhodesian Bush War had an adverse effect on the cricket team. The players often were forced to have spells in the national army, and along with their day jobs, there was little time for cricket practice.

The 1979-80 season was Rhodesia's last in the Currie Cup. Officially, the team was known as Zimbabwe-Rhodesia as Abel Muzorewa replaced Ian Smith as prime minister.

From 1980 onwards, the international sanctions imposed against the country were lifted, and Zimbabwe no longer had a reliance on South Africa to provide international class opposition. Now open to the rest of the world, Leicestershire and Middlesex send full strength teams to play First Class matches against Zimbabwean XI's. In 1981, Zimbabwe gained Associate status from the International Cricket Council. In 1982, Salisbury, like so many other cities in Zimbabwe, was renamed. From 1982 onwards it was known as Harare.

1983 was a special year for Zimbabwe, having qualified for the World Cup by winning the ICC Trophy. As preparation for the World Cup, the Zimbabwe Cricket Union secured tours by Sri Lanka and Young Australians. Zimbabwe went on to defeat Australia in the World Cup.

As the 1980's came to a close, the Zimbabwean team was quickly aspiring to Test status. Andy and Grant Flower were both making their respective debuts, and Dave Houghton, Andy Pycroft and Robin Brown were in their prime.

In 1992, Zimbabwe were granted Test status. Had they not been granted Test status, they may have lost all of their leading players to South Africa, something which could have killed Zimbabwean cricket. Their first Test match was against India, and they drew the match, a remarkable result. In 1993, Dave Ellman-Brown, the man behind Zimbabwe getting Test status, quit as Zimbabwe Cricket Union president. Peter Chingoka, who still holds the post today, took over. The 1993-94 season was also the first year that the Logan Cup, formerly a 2-day competition, gained First Class status.

Zimbabwe won their first Test match in the 1994-95 season, their 11th Test in total, when Pakistan were downedat the Harare Sports Club by a comprehensive innings and 64 runs.

In 1995, Henry Olonga represented Zimbabwe, the country's first black Test player. He was born in Zambia to a Kenyan father and a Zimbabwean mother. His citizenship was hurried through the authorities quickly before the 1st Test against Pakistan that year. He only played one match though, forced on the sidelines for the rest of the series due to a faulty bowling action, although the official reason was injury.

Zimbabwe had moderate success over the next decade, although politically and economically, Zimbabwe was on shaky ground. Zimbabwe remained competitive in international cricket, particularly one-day cricket, until 2004.

In 2004, Heath Streak was sacked as national team captain by the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, leading to 14 other players quitting. Some of the players returned in 2005, but in early 2006 the side was pretty much rebuilt from the ground up, with the only experienced players being the likes of Brendan Taylor and Hamilton Masakadza, who were in their late teens and early twenties respectively at the time.

2006 was a bad year for Zimbabwe cricket. It started in February with the process of rebuilding the squad. Terrence Duffin was named captain in the same match he was making his ODI debut, and the series against Kenya ended up as a 2-2 draw. Only a year before, Kenya would have been roundly defeated by Zimbabwe. The West Indies tour was a disaster, losing the series 0-6. When Prosper Utseya took over the captaincy, things looked up, with a 3-2 series win over Bangladesh, including one thriller where Brendan Taylor hit a 6 from the last ball of the match to secure a win. But it went downhill quickly, the Zimbabwe Cricket board getting a lot of negative publicity when Mark Vermeulen burnt down the Harare Sports Club boardroom and the Zimbabwe Cricket Academy facilities.

Come 2007, the team had gradually put in better performances as they had played more international games, and regained the experience of Tatenda Taibu and Ray Price, two players that walked out on Zimbabwe cricket. Zimbabwe recorded wins over Australia and West Indies, which sparked wide-spread hopes of a revival of form, but consistency is still a problem, although the upsets are coming more often than before.