New era dawns for Zim cricket

2011-09-24 00:00

AFTER a hiatus of almost six years Zimbabwe have announced their reintroduction into the Test arena with some inspired performances from their younger players.

These performances would suggest that the controlling body for the sport, the International Cricket Council (ICC), has been justified in its decision to reinstate the sleeping African nation to the longer version of the game.

Although they lost the recent one-off Test against Pakistan fairly comprehensively, they managed to beat Bangladesh. These performances indicate that, given time, the nation can regain some lost cricketing pride and take its place amongst the world’s elite.

For many years Zimbabwe was seen by many as a resilient Test-playing nation and while they could not compete against the bigger teams over a full series, they could hold their own against them and often spoil the apple cart.

This was all to change in 2005 when the ICC announced that political turmoil in the embattled country and a string of poor performances would mean that Zimbabwe would be temporarily stripped of its Test status.

However, the country would be allowed to compete in the shorter versions of the game.

Many argued that denying up-and-coming younger players a chance to prove themselves at the sport’s highest level would be a significant blow to cricket in the country.

However, the ICC stood by its decision saying that its hand was forced by established Test-playing countries such as Australia and England, who refused to tour the country because of political turmoil.

The global disdain for the country’s political landscape came to a head at the 2003 ICC Cricket World Cup, played in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya.

In the lead-up to the tournament England were under significant pressure to boycott their game against Zimbabwe, which was due to take place in Harare.

Knowing that much would be at stake, England toyed with the idea of playing the match, but ultimately bowed to calls from English authorities to go ahead with the boycott.

This handed Zimbabwe the win, which sent them into the knockout stages of the tournament two points ahead of England.

Zimbabwean players also had their fair share of courting controversy at the tournament. Senior players Henry Olonga and Heath Streak wore black armbands in their first match in protest at what they called “the death of democracy in Zimbabwe”.

Both players retired from international cricket after the tournament to play county cricket in England.

At a press conference Olonga said that continuing would be condoning the grotesque human rights violations that were ongoing in the country.

This in itself was a significant blow to cricket in the country because both Streak and Olonga retired at the height of their powers, where Streak was rated among the world’s top fast bowlers.

Andy Flower, who a year before topped the ICC Rankings for Test batsmen, also retired soon thereafter, leaving the nation with a void in its cricket that would take almost a decade to rectify.

With the inclusive government of national unity, the political situation in the country has regained some measure of stability. This prompted the ICC to reintroduce the nation to the longer version of the game.

Now, under the guidance of former English county player Alan Butcher and the leadership of the likeable Brendan Taylor, a new dawn for Zimbabwe cricket could be on the horizon.

The nation managed to beat Bangladesh in their first Test in over six years in August.

Hamilton Masakadza scored his first century in 10 years during the first innings, while debutant Brian Vitori took 4/66 during Bangladesh’s first innings. Taylor was named man of the match with a cleverly played 71 followed by a masterful 105.

The team then had to negate a one-off Test against Pakistan in Bulawayo.

Making his Test debut, Zimbabwean batsman Tinotenda Mawoyo scored a sublimely orchestrated 163.

Not much was expected of a relatively young Zimbabwe team with no Test experience, but performances such as these bare no indication that Zimbabwe has been in the Test cricket wilderness for over six years. Zimbabwe’s win against Bangladesh proved that they could muster the ability to challenge the likes of the West Indies — a side struggling for consistency at Test level.

Looking ahead, the key for Zimbabwe is that they don’t lose heart.

They must continue their new venture into the Test arena and not place too much of an emphasis on future results. With more bilateral series during gaps in the ICC Future Tours Programme, South Africa could play a significant role in the revival of Zimbabwean cricket.

The inclusion of Zimbabwe in the domestic SuperSport Series could be a good place to start.

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