Zimbabwe's fifteen-strong squad arrived in Australia in high spirits, having just defeated New Zealand in a keenly-fought series of one-day international matches across the Tasman. Sadly for the tourists, the same sort of mood did not prevail one month later when it came time to return home.
After they were hammered by an Australia 'A' team by 216 runs in the lead-up to the Carlton Series of one-day international matches against the home team and West Indies, the prospects of continued success did not seem auspicious. And, while they battled bravely for much of their campaign on Australian soil, such suspicions were proved correct. In the nine matches which followed, only one win came their way - and even that arrived in unexpected circumstances following a remarkable contest against the West Indians in Sydney.
There were nonetheless many memorable - and many pleasing - aspects to emerge from the Zimbabweans' visit to Australian shores. Quite apart from the fact that the visit represented only the Africans' second foray in history into the Carlton Series (or its equivalent in previous years), captain Heath Streak availed himself of the opportunity to prove a consistently strong contributor. He backed determined leadership with excellent returns with both bat and ball to play a starring role for his side on a consistent basis. Batsmen Alistair Campbell and Stuart Carlisle also acquitted themselves well, both nudging close to the three hundred run mark for the series. Pace bowler Mluleki Nkala was also among the better-performed players of the competition and he clearly shapes as an exciting future prospect for his country.
The Zimbabweans also presented Australia with easily its biggest fright of the entire season when they went within one run of toppling the world champions in a thrilling contest in Perth. The home team had amassed a mammoth total of 5/302 batting first and looked to be well in control of what was the closing preliminary match of the series. But that assessment hadn't figured on a superb century from Carlisle nor a fighting 85 from Grant Flower and not even some audaciously improvised strokeplay from Douglas Marillier during the dying stages of the innings.
In the end, both the result of that game and the outcome of the series as a whole were cruel for the tourists. But neither suggested that the differences between Zimbabwe and the world's best team are quite as insurmountable as some might imagine.