Fans: Zim Cricket’s 12th man

The Chronicle

Brandon Moyo, Sports Reporter

AS the start of a match draws closer they start drifting into the stadium in their numbers, some in national colours and waving the Zimbabwean flags up high.

None of them are in the team sheet but they all are an important part of the team, that whenever they are not around, their absence is felt. Stationed on the other side of the stadium’s advertising boards, they play a huge role as the 12th man.

Fans throughout the world have been an integral part of any team to the point that it becomes difficult to win away from home due to the stadium atmosphere created by the home side’s fans. Whenever the Zimbabwe senior men cricket team has a home fixture, be it Queens Sports Club or Harare Sports Club, one can be rest assured that thousands will throng the stadium to rally behind their beloved Chevrons.

When Zimbabwe were on verge of being kicked out as an International Cricket Council Full Member in 2019, one of the things that made the world cricket governing body to be patient with the country is what they had seen when the country hosted the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2018 when thousands turned up to back the men in red as they tried, without success to qualify for the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup held in England. 

Those who follow England Cricket will know of the Barmy Army who always rally behind their side, in India there is the Bharat Army who are equally good as their English counterparts. During the days of South Africa’s Hashim Amla, they had a set of fans known as the Hashim Army.

Back home, a sport that has always been viewed as ‘boring’ has become, in recent years, arguably the most followed in the country. In 2018, matches had to be moved from one stadium to the other to accommodate the fans. 

Zimbabwe’s group match against Scotland, originally scheduled for Bulawayo Athletic Club was shifted to a much bigger Queens Sports Club when ICC officials realised the amount of support the home team was enjoying. 

Gates had to be locked when Zimbabwe faced the United Arab Emirates on that fateful day on 22 March 2018 when all the then Heath Streak coached side needed was to win and qualify for the 2019 Cricket World Cup in England, something they however, failed to do, much to the disappointment of the fans who had come to support the team. 

Cricket was on the low, the fans were heartbroken but they stood with their team even during the days where they were suspended by the sport’s governing body. Fast forward to mid-2022, former captain Dave Houghton was appointed head coach and his first task was to take Zimbabwe to the ICC Men’s T20I World Cup in Australia.

Queens Sports Club was packed to the fullest when Zimbabwe played against Netherlands in the final match of the qualifiers and all the other matches. The 12th man, who has come to be known as Castle Corner, were up in song throughout the match, creating an electric atmosphere as their beloved Chevrons won by 37 runs in a match they seemed to have lost after posting 132 but fought hard to bowl out the Dutch for 95. 

Bulawayo fans left Scott Edwards, Netherlands’ captain lost for words saying they are up there with the best in the world, comparing them to England’s Barmy Army, which is considered the best cricket supporting group globally.

“This is definitely up there, we had the Barmy Army in the Netherlands a few months ago and this goes pretty close to topping that I think. They were amazing, they were loud and the atmosphere is pretty cool.

“I think they played a part in a couple of the run outs, it was pretty loud out here, it was tough to hear each other but we were out enjoying as much as Zimbabwe,’’ said Edwards after the match.

The love did not stop there but moved over to the capital where a couple of series against Bangladesh and India were played. As Zimbabwe recorded their first ever white ball series triumph since 2017 against the Tigers, the fans were an integral part of the team. They rallied behind the Chevrons as well as they lost against India.

Last week, in the team’s first international outing of the year, Harare Sports Club was filled to the maximum as they faced Ireland. Once again they were up in song, turning the stadia into a fortress, making sure the Irish had to sweat for victory.

In playing their role as the team’s 12th man, they charmed the visitors. Likened to the Barmy Army by Edwards, Ireland skipper Andy Balbirnie was impressed, pitting them just behind giants India.

“Apart from when you play India, it’s probably the best atmosphere to play in. It’s really nice, it’s not hostile, it’s friendly, and everyone loves to be here and it’s great to play in front of. We want to play good cricket and entertain people whether it’s here, whether it’s at home, or wherever it is. We have really enjoyed the crowd and hopefully, it continues,” said Balbirnie.

Commentator Andrew Leonard was charmed as well by the love Zimbabweans have for the game.

“The best atmosphere I’ve ever seen at an international match as over 10 000 fans made the Harare Sports Club bounce to every single moment as the series went right to the wire with Zimbabwe Cricket taking it 2-1!” wrote Leonard on his Twitter account after the final T20I.

Today they are expected to continue with the momentum as the Chevrons go against Ireland in the second One Day International (ODI), a match that was initially meant to be played yesterday but had to be moved to make sure that the 12th man gets the chance to perform their duty.

What fans have done in Bulawayo and Harare was to send a message that cricket is truly alive and kicking in Zimbabwe. – @brandon_malvin

Article Source: The Chronicle

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