Zimbabwe's summer of hope
Bangladesh’s tour of Zimbabwe wasn't supposed to be a contest that was capable of arousing the hysterics and attention that say, the India-England Test series generated, or the rivalry between Australia and England.
But for Zimbabwe, the lone Test match against Bangladesh after six years of self-imposed exile from Test cricket was a second chance to inject life into a promise that they made courtesy a strong show against some of the top guns of cricketing world years back, that made the powerhouses sit back and take notice.
However, after the culmination of the tour, a strong and resilient performance from the host team that saw the impressive debut of Brian Vitori, who made the record of claiming the most number of wickets in his first two ODIs, has given hope to their successful return to the world of international cricket.
Even though after being granted the Test status in 1992, their initial performances were quite not up to the mark, in fact they were so weak that it was enough to for some to claim that the decision to award them Test status was a bit premature. However, soon the team started dishing out improved performances registering series victories against team like India and Pakistan.
The team was a strong One-day side in the late nineties and particularly famous for its fielding capabilities and boasted of batsman like Andy Flower, who at one point was one of the best in the world, pace bowler like Henry Olonga and an all-rounder like Heath Streak, who now happens to be their current bowling coach.
You cannot expect each and every team to go the Sri Lankan way, who in a span of just 15 years established themselves as the top three teams in the world from being among the so called minnows.
Soon, a promise that Zimbabwe was began to fade as a result of multiple factors including non-cricketing reasons. The deteriorating political situation in the country led many of their players protesting against the death of democracy and when it seemed the situation had gone out of control, the result was mass exodus of their cricketers to other countries for greener pastures, since they considered the current conditions unsuitable for healthy development of cricket.
Sponsors began withdrawing as fund supply became scarce, politics and cricket mixed beyond desirable levels, contracts to deserving players were refused, their captain Heath Streak announced retirement and new captain left international cricket altogether.
In addition to all this, allegations of racial-biases were clearly signs that spoke loudly of the dilapidated cricketing scenario in the country.
A generation of talented cricketing individuals was thus lost as was clearly evident by their performances in other overseas tournaments where they continued with consistency.
It was imminent that a drastic measure was soon expected from ICC, but before that Zimbabwe Cricket itself announced the country’s suspension from playing Test cricket in 2006 for the rest of the year. The next scheduled series against West Indies was to occur only in 2007.
Seeing the plight of their nation, few of the rebels returned to take up the roles of coach and mentors to guide their troubled cricket team out of the quagmire.
The year 2011 can be a fresh start for the troubled nation beset with multiple problems. Under the captaincy of Brendan Taylor, the team would be looking for an improved performance in every department as they have shown against Bangladesh and would like to emulate that against a much stronger Pakistan.
It would be naive to expect the team to quickly reach their prime levels of the past. But certainly, since international cricket fraternity has shown enough faith in the cricketing abilities of the African nation, a minimum playing standard is expected from them since their past ODI performances haven't been a cause to celebrate.
What the team needs now is a stable and strong management free from any political influences, with them backing their players strongly and providing them optimum exposure by encouraging them to play overseas in domestic tournaments (like county cricket, IPL etc.) where they can get an idea of the level of international cricket.
However, financially strong cricket boards such as BCCI which are adamant on drafting FTP's that are 'lucrative' enough to keep their coffers soaring constantly. For this reason BCCI has kept itself from hosting minnows like Zimbabwe and Bangladesh till 2020.
This attitude wouldn't be of any help if ICC is supposedly trying hard to revive cricket in such nations.