Zimbabwe defy adversary in Test victory

Zimbabwe Cricket badgeZimbabwe captain Brendan Taylor described the Test win over Pakistan as: “An unbelievable feeling” – perhaps he should have described it as a minor miracle – after all that’s what it is given Zimbabwe cricket’s current plight.

The win was his side’s first Test victory over a nation other than Bangladesh since 2001 and only their fifth ever. But forget that for a minute, what makes this victory so remarkable is that it was achieved despite the ongoing problems that continue to plague Zimbabwean cricket.

The victory put into context shows the remarkable magnitude of its achievement. Only a week ago the fact that the match would even go ahead was debatable. The players had not been paid for two months and the Zimbabwean board had to switch the match to Harare, the venue of the first Test, as they couldn’t afford to pay the player’s accommodation and travel fees in the original venue, Bulawayo.

Before the series the players had not received their salaries for July and August and threatened to boycott the series completely unless they were paid – two players in Graeme Cremer and Sean Williams refused to play the first Test due to late payments, although the latter has since agreed to sign a new contract, it gauges the current financial problems that continue to hold back Zimbabwean cricket.

Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) announced early last month that the organisation was down about $4.2 million in the last year. This Test series, like most hosted in the country, was run at a significant loss with the ZC continuing to haemorrhage money.

This Test only went ahead after the board agreed to pay the players a portion of their outstanding payments just four days before the match was due to start.

Despite the ongoing financial restraints, Zimbabwe remain a competitive unit.
Despite the ongoing financial restraints, Zimbabwe remain a competitive unit.

Other issues that have hampered the side in recent times have included a lack of bowling coach after former fast-bowler Heath Streak was relieved of his duty in April as another mean of cost cutting.

Despite the players having to deal with all of the issues above, their performances have not been affected and their 24-run victory over Pakistan was due reward for their recent hard work and strong team ethos.

The ODI win over the same opponents a few weeks back brought belief to the home side that Pakistan could be beaten. That said, winning in 50-over cricket is a far easier task than maintaining your skill levels over the course of five days of gruelling Test cricket so credit really must be given to this hardworking Zimbabwean outfit.

The victory itself was a real team effort. Despite three individual fifties being scored, the runs were well shared around with even the tail helping to gain an important first innings lead. The bowling effort was based around two individuals with a bright future in the game.

Tendai Chatara, 22, and Brian Vitori, 23, were the stars of the show. The latter taking a superb first innings 5-61 as Pakistan were held to a first innings score of just 230. Chatara, perhaps inspired at what his fellow opening bowler mustered in the first dig then bowled his side to victory with his own figures of 5-61.

The one man who holds it altogether for Zimbabwe is captain Taylor. Despite the side confessing in having ‘no star players,’ Taylor must be considered the nations star man. Although he is not in the same class as the country’s best ever batsman, Andy Flower – Taylor is a better batsman than a Test average of just 35 suggests and he is vital to the future of Zimbabwean cricket as both batsman and captain.

Leading from the front....Brendan Taylor, left, remains key to future Zimbabwe success.
Leading from the front….Brendan Taylor, left, remains key to future Zimbabwe success.

At only 27, he should still have the best years ahead of him as his game matures even more. How Zimbabwe should be pleased he turned down advances from county cricket – that would have all but ended his association with the African nation.

Taylor has led the side with distension since their return to Test cricket in August 2011, despite the results not always been positive ones since, the captain has always led from the front.

After beating Bangladesh in their comeback Test in August 2011, they then went on to lose their next five matches and doubts about their return to the five-day format were seriously raised – since the five defeats they have now secured drawn home series with both Bangladesh and Pakistan and there looks light at the end of the tunnel.

The Pakistani victory was only Zimbabwe’s 11th win in 93 Test outings dating back to their inaugural match in 1992. Three of those victories have now come under the leadership of Taylor.

The spine of the side still includes survivors from the team that played before Zimbabwe entered Test exile in January 2006. Alongside Taylor, Hamilton Masakadza, Vusi Sibanda, Elton Chigumbura, Prosper Utseya and Tinashe Panyangara all remain and form a key core to what Zimbabwe are trying to achieve at Test level.

Despite many key players being involved in the current Test set-up, there remains those who have moved on to pastures new. There is no doubt that a bigger pool of players to select from would make Zimbabwe a stronger unit.

The number of key players lost in recent times in mounting up almost weekly.

Batsman Craig Ervine refused a winter contract with ZC and has instead decided to play club cricket in Ireland, while promising seamer Kyle Jarvis has signed a deal to play county cricket with Lancashire next season and former wicketkeeper Tatenda Taibu recently retired from all cricket to focus all of his attention on the church.

Add onto that list Yorkshire’s prolific batsman Gary Ballance – who has instead chosen to represent his adopted county England. If you want to dig down even further you could add Craig Ervine’s older brother Sean – who hasn’t represented Zimbabwe since signing as a kolpak for Hampshire in 2005.

Losing such talent is bound to affect a county where the national pool of players is already small. But you can’t blame the players themselves for putting financial security ahead of representing their nation – each player has to do what is best for them. This is where the ZC board needs to take a long hard look at themselves.

Zimbabwean cricket is far from perfect, in fact it is still in a financial mess, but with more days like Saturday at the Harare Cricket Ground, they can still at least give their dedicated spectators more hope for a brighter future.

 

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