What Does the Future Hold for Test Cricket in Zimbabwe? Are They Recovering?

Faras GhaniContributor ISeptember 17, 2013

(c) AFP
(c) AFP

"Coming from the ghetto to here, it just feels nice to contribute," said Tendai Chatara in the post-match press conference as the dust started to settle on Zimbabwe’s shock Test win over Pakistan in Harare, as reported by Cricinfo.

Not many had expected such a result from Zimbabwe who had been mauled by India in the limited-overs series just weeks ago. The tourists, unlike Pakistan, had also rested key seniors, opting to groom their future captain as well as youngsters who had a role to play in the years to come.

With a strong Pakistan lineup in all three formats, close shaves at best were what the cricket world—including Zimbabwe supporters—would have anticipated. A seven-wicket win in the opening ODI and a 24-run shocker in the second Test would have been beyond their wildest dreams.

But realise their potential, target Pakistan’s frailty and fear and contribute they did. In the end, apart from the terrific dressing room celebrations, the win has set a thorny precedent for Zimbabwe cricketers—of not only being competitive in the fixtures to come but also emulate their recent feats against bigger, better opposition.

So where does Zimbabwe cricket go from here, especially as they celebrate their return to the Test arena? Nowhere right now, unfortunately. Their next Test series isn’t likely to take place before next July.

They say you need to keep the cogs well-oiled and turning when things are going well. But how will Zimbabwe manage to back up their Test win with something to talk about when there isn’t another Test for such a long time?

Zimbabwe’s Test record has been patchy of late. They don’t possess the world-class talent they once did. There is no Andy Flower, Grant Flower is restricted to the dressing room, Heath Streak was shown the door given the financial constraints and names like Henry Olonga, Ray Price and Neil Johnson are all in the past.

But perhaps this is where Zimbabwe—with the urge to make a name for themselves and the willingness to "contribute"—have an edge over the opposition, especially a confused Pakistan setup fighting mind versus orders.

In 93 Tests played to date, Zimbabwe have managed wins over their Asian competitors only—six against Bangladesh, two over India and three against Pakistan. Most of them came in the golden days when the above-mentioned few formed the core of a strong Zimbabwe lineup. But has the current crop not got the potential to emulate their predecessors? We will only find out when the cricket world stops shunning them.

"You can forget what it feels like to win," said coach Andy Waller following the Test win over Pakistan, reported by Cricinfo. "It's hard for the guys because we believe we can compete against sides. We'll just have to work hard in the nets and get better for when we play again."

But that is where Zimbabwe’s competitors—the Test-playing nations—need to step in. According to ESPNCricinfo, Zimbabwe Cricket is $18m in debt and losing further with each series they host. Other teams aren’t willing to host them because it doesn’t work out financially for them.

Zimbabwe players, the ground staff and the coaches await their salaries. There just isn’t enough cash coming in to settle the mess. In the midst of it all, Zimbabwe’s Test cricket, with much promise shown against Pakistan, suffers the most.

Surprising as it was, Zimbabwe’s Test win against Pakistan was courtesy of the tourists’ poor approach and cautious batting as well. Zimbabwe were best when they kept it simple—it allowed them to be consistent in their approach and increased the pressure on Pakistan.

They played Saeed Ajmal well on most occasions and respected Junaid Khan as he should have been. Hamilton Masakadza’s knocks in the second Test were apt illustration of how to survive a torrid opening spell and build an innings.

However, Pakistan’s timid approach also gave Zimbabwe a false sense of assurance when it came to their bowling department. Brian Vitori, Chatara and Tinashe Panyangara bowled well to trouble the batsmen but will they be able to stand up against better, fearless opposition? Prosper Utseya hasn’t played much Test cricket and it showed, in batches, of why he hasn’t.

Zimbabwe need to improve their bowling. They need adequate backup, they need extra pace and they need someone to replace the retired Price. With that, they need the belief of rubbing shoulders with the big boys.

Quite often in the past, Zimbabwe has set foot in the door, only to panic and have that door firmly shut in their face. They knocked at it again, managed a squeal but with the same results. The win has given them a firm grip on the handle.

We wait and see whether the grip is as firm 10 months later as it was last week.