Thirteen Tests in the last five years. Not a single Test in 2015. What exactly are Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) is trying to do with their players? “Test cricket is dying, limited-overs cricket will remain the trend in the coming years” is what you would hear from cricket fans across the world. It is difficult to believe the Test format will ever die in the spot. The Ashes, Border-Gavaskar Trophy, Trans-Tasman Trophy and other Test series are the ultimate goals at the end for the higher-ranked sides and this shows Test cricket certainly is and will remain the primary judge. Zimbabwe played their last Test way back in 2014 when Bangladesh hosted them for 5 ODIs and 3 Tests, and the visitors were whitewashed in both formats. Sakshi Gupta throws light on how Zimbabwe are wasting talent in their side by ignoring the longest format of the game.
They took about 30 Tests to register their first win in whites. They won at the right time, for ICC had been reconsidering their Test status. Thanks to captain Andy Flower, Zimbabwe finally registered their first Test win; that probably stopped ICC to take a harsh step against them. The victory came against Pakistan at home in the one-off Test in 1995 at Harare Sports Club. The Flower brothers — Andy and Grant — scored 156 and 201 respectively to help Zimbabwe post 554 runs in the first innings. Heath Streak, who would lead Zimbabwe later in the years, picked six wickets and the hosts bowled out Pakistan for 322 runs. Eventually Zimbabwe touched their first Test victory by an innings and 64 runs.
It is difficult to understand why ZC still struggles to value their Test status, which they had earned in 1992. Sacrifices were made to ensure Zimbabwe cricket resumed in the right direction. The protest involving Andy Flower and Henry Olonga during a match against Namibia in ICC Cricket World Cup 2003 could have been a lifesaver for Zimbabwe cricket. Unfortunately, the sacrifices went in vain. Andy and Olonga did not think twice about their international career, or for that matter, their lives, when they donned black armbands to protest against the Robert Mugabe regime. All the duo wanted was the return of democracy to their “beloved” Zimbabwe. Obviously, they were immediately cut off from the national side and had to leave the country!!
Next year the Zimbabweans played 8 Tests before bringing a temporary end to their Test side. The Government and board decided to voluntarily suspend Zimbabwe from Test cricket in order to improve their performances in the white-ball game. Zimbabwe did not play Tests between 2006 and 2010. By doing so they could have taken a huge risk but that did not affect their Test status.
They returned to Tests in 2011. The long five-year break had paid off. They hosted Bangladesh in an one-off under a new leader, Brendan Taylor, and the hosts who took the Test with 130 runs. That match should have done wonders for Zimbabwe, at least physiologically. It made them believe that they could compete with the big sides in the longest format. However, ZC never tried to capitalise on the triumph. They played just two more Tests that year and one more in 2012.
Thankfully, they played 6 Tests in 2013, of which memories from the last still linger in the minds of the fans. They ended up beating Pakistan, registering one of the biggest upsets in history. Zimbabwe won the Test by 24 runs and once again maybe they saved the longest format in their country with that performance. The Tests they played, the better the results became. Why not continue with that process? Why ignore Tests? The last time they played Australia, Sri Lanka, India and New Zealand in Tests in the period between 2003 and 2005. That is certainly not doing any good to them. Unless Zimbabwe play the big nations regularly, they will not go on to improve. It does not take rocket science to understand that success requires a lot of hard work; Zimbabwe cannot expect immediate prosperity if they do not regularly play big nations.
Test cricket is not dying anytime soon. Zimbabwe have no option but to improve their status in the red-ball game. They are lucky to have a Test status unlike the likes of Ireland, who have altogether a different problem of being ignored by ICC for reasons known best to ICC. Zimbabwe will be able to do little if ICC once turn their back at them!
(Sakshi Gupta, a reporter with CricketCountry, is a sports fanatic whose mantra in life is “do only what you enjoy.” Her Twitter handle is @sakshi2929)