Zim’s Vim

2011-08-13 00:00

TEST cricket exposes weakness and reveals strengths. Teams can bluff their way through T20 matches and ODIs, but five-day contests examine every nook and cranny. Defeat awaits an under-prepared or complacent side pitted against a focussed and talented outfit. Not even India, with all its talent, can survive laziness.

Zimbabwe’s comprehensive victory over Bangladesh in the one-off contest in Harare was as encouraging for one community as it was alarming for the other. As far as cricket is concerned it was a mixed bag because both nations are vital to the development of the game. Bangladesh is a vast nation of immense cricketing potential. Zimbabwe is the stronghold of black African cricket.

The match gave observers an opportunity to assess progress in both cricketing dispensations.

Every country has so many media managers these days that it’s risky to rely on anything except facts and figures. Moreover, numerous commentators who bat for both sides are paid by the very boards they are supposed to monitor.

Governance has long been cricket’s most serious problem and conflicts of interest merely entrench dubious practices and dodgy types. The tension between rulers and the fourth estate is healthy.

Throughout the five days it was like watching men against boys, amateurs against professionals.

Zimbabwe had long been the callow outfit, and indeed maturity has come slowly.

Doubtless the turbulent state of the country and the authoritarian approach of senior officials did not help, but the players were too willing to blame others for their mistakes.

Zimbabwe played with sense, grit and passion. Several breakthroughs were made. In Brendon Taylor Zimbabwe has appointed an astute and calm captain. The team have also found a lively pair of opening bowlers in Brian Vitori and Kyle Jarvis, who were mightily impressive.

Vitori is a strong left-armer with a smooth action, abundant stamina and an ability to curl the ball back into right-handers. Simply, he is Zimbabwe’s most promising speedster since Heath Streak.

Jarvis’s dad played in his country’s inaugural Test, but his son is the better bowler.

Like Glenn McGrath, Jarvis junior is tall and relies on bounce, late movement and consistency. He lacks experience and periodically lost patience and control, but the promise was obvious.

In support Chris Mpofu, a tall paceman of humble origin who began bowling with lemons in his backyard, improved considerably on previous efforts and is clearly working along the right lines.

As far as the batting was concerned it was a delight to watch Hamilton Mazakadza scoring his second Test hundred. His first came on his debut as a 17-year-old called up to face the supposedly mighty but rapidly declining West Indians.

After that he went to study and his cricket endured a long spell in the doldrums. In fact his fortunes chart the rise and fall of his country’s cricket. And the reason is simple — Mazakadza has an independent mind unlikely to tolerate any nonsense.

Zimbabwe played as a team, fielded superbly and confirmed they deserve further support as they claw their way back into the upper echelons.

Off the field, too, there are signs of progress, with greater accountability and a willingness to confront corruption that recently led to the removal of two CEOs. Not that it’s all milk tart and boerwors.

Recently Tatenda Taibu dismissed the changes as a façade. His particular complaints were true, but at least officials addressed them.

Five years ago the same bigwigs threatened him for speaking out, and he fled the country. The great debate in the world at present is whether human rights and democracy are Western concepts imposed on a reluctant world, or universal qualities.

Alas the Banglas were as pitiful as the Zimbos were outstanding. Bowlers dropped short and wide, batsmen played silly shots and no one produced the sort of long spell or sustained innings demanded in the Test arena. Even putting Zimbabwe into bat was an inexplicable error of judgment because the pitch was docile.

Had the Banglas been a bunch of giddy youngsters their dismal display might have been forgiven. But they have been around for a decade and show little sign of improvement.

Alas their domestic cricket is weak and the lack of senior players — the captain is only 24 — indicates that the system is not working. Ireland, Afghanistan and others would have offered stiffer resistance.

But it’s vital to support Bangladesh, a country of 180 million people that seem devoted to the game.

They staged the Cricket World Cup opening ceremony and all present agreed it was an extraordinary occasion, akin to the birth of a nation.

Bangladesh can become one of the game’s strongholds. Zimbabwe’s long term-future is unclear because it is tied up with matters beyond the game’s control, not least the battle between liberty and tyranny. But cricket will be a duller game without black Africa. Let’s hope both nations make the grade.

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