A victory to savour

It was a strange feeling waking up on Sunday morning getting ready for my third one-day final in as many months. In ten years at Middlesex we reached just one final of any consequence. Now they seem to be coming in a rush. After the horror of dropping Sean Ervine in the Friends Provident t20 final and wanting to disappear into a hole in the ground, I’ve managed to get a few runs in the last two big ones. But though I got 60 against Warwickshire in the Clydesdale Bank 40 final, there was bitter disappointment when we went down by three wickets. This time it was perfect. Runs that mattered and a win. Maybe the ECB should introduce a set of averages for winning teams and players. Runs and wickets only counting when you win. No place to hide there!

All I can say is that winning runs are infinitely more satisfying than ‘consolation’ runs – and clearly mean so much more. I struggled at first in tricky conditions, but loosened up and played as well as I have for a long time on Sunday. And it was fun. It was a strange rollercoaster of a weekend. The ecstasy of Sunday had been preceded by an appalling semi-final where, after bowling out the opposition for 71, we just managed to limp over the line with nine wickets down. We should really have strolled through, but it was one of those days when none of the batsmen read the conditions very well. We played some horrendous shots – none more so than yours truly. The only mitigation is that when you're chasing such a low score it can be a difficult balance to strike. You don’t want to be too defensive and hand the initiative to the fielding side, but you can’t be so expansive that you precipitate a clatter of wickets.

The more I play and particularly the more important big matches I compete in, the more I realise how important it is to be mentally in the right space. It’s all that matters. Being relaxed, calm and being clear in your mind what strategy you are going to employ is vital. I try to have a plan I can see in my head and then act on it calmly and rationally. I suppose another way of describing it is backing yourself 100 percent. I really believe in this form of the game that you have to give yourself a chance out there. You have to back that fact that through thick or thin – though you might only have 10 runs off 20 balls - you'll come through it. At one stage in the final my strike rate was hovering around 60. We had batted nine overs and I had enjoyed my share of the strike. I ended with 74 off 55. Anyway. With my record I'm not sure I’m the one to be discoursing on the secrets of one-day batting. Maybe I should leave it to Tendulkar, Hussey, Morgan and the like!

The whole day was truly amazing. An unprecedented crowd of 15,000 packed into the ground, with vuvuzelas blaring and people jiving and jumping. Wow! Guys – Zimbabwean cricket is alive and well.Our blogger lines up a reverse-sweep © Zimbabwe Cricket I must have been in a good place when I was batting because I barely noticed the hubbub. But in the field it was a different matter. I spent most of the time at cover and when the Rhinos hit a boundary the deeply sonorous heart of Africa manifested itself into song.

There was this group of supporters all crooning along and boy could they sing. The sound was hauntingly beautiful and the rhythm sent goose bumps down my back as I peered over my shoulder (Check out the Invictus Soundtrack – Shosholoza on YouTube to get a taste). Being run out was a disappointment and the innings seemed to be tottering. The unworthy thought was that the last time I had been involved in a run out in a big game it opened the door for Imran Tahir to take a match-winning five wicket in four overs at Lord’s in September. Fortunately our talisman, Andrew Hall, had other ideas and a 17-ball 39 including four fours and two sixes boosted us to a competitive 168. Built like a strong-arm man from the Mafia and with gun toting experiences to match, Hall is as uncompromising on the field as he is a mate off it. The Rhinos had come out all guns blazing and I had a ricked neck from watching the trajectory of a succession of lusty blows all round the ground. We were doomed until Ray Price - our kingpin spinner – came on to bowl a great spell, but even then, with just seven needed off the last over, the Rhino’s were favourites.

Up stepped Hall to bowl six of the best yorkers you'll ever see. But then, what would you expect from a man who was once shot at point-blank range in a bank hold-up and had a gun held to his head in an attempted car-jack? Bowling at the death possibly comes a little easier when you’ve looked it in the face. Pressure is about nerve and Hall is the epitome of someone who knows what needs to be done on the field. If anything, that over depicted the standards that Zimbabwean cricket should aspire too. It was a privilege to be there to witness something so perfect at such a time. It could so easily have been all over the day before. Instead, there I was popping champagne and celebrating our captain Grant Flower’s final game. As he said in the changing room later, a familiar beer in hand, the margin between success and failure can be so small in sport and what can tip the balance is hard work and a good attitude. Maybe I imagined it, but he seemed to be looking at me through the whole team-talk.

Published 25 November 2010