Whilst England and India battle (in the loosest definition of the word, thus far) to be the top ranked team in Test cricket, two sides long associated with the bottom of the rankings have just commenced a one-off Test match in Harare.
This represents Bangladesh’s first Test match since their tour of England in 2010, but more significantly, is Zimbabwe’s return to Test cricket after six years in the wilderness.
Generally, we think this should be considered a good thing for the sport and for the country. That ex-player Alistair Campbell is national selector is hopefully a sign that things have improved since their self-imposed (but inevitable) exile. We are not really in a position to comment on the political situation in the country, but in terms of cricket, returning the number of Test playing sides to ten should help improve the sport globally particularly as Zimbabwe have said they will for now only play the lesser nations such as Pakistan and New Zealand (a cheap joke about Australia goes here), thus hopefully avoiding the inevitable thrashings. With luck these games will prove to be both competitive and popular. There is a balance to be struck between preserving the integrity of Test cricket by preventing hopeless mismatches, while at the same time recognising that a sport with only ten active teams needs to nurture and sustain those sides, if it is to survive and flourish. It is therefore eminently sensible that Zimbabwe should play the lower-ranked sides for the time being, but to avoid the permanent establishment of a two-tier system, the ICC must take the lead in fostering development and governance programs to enable these so-called ‘lesser’ countries to compete.
Former captain and current wicket-keeper Tatenda Taibu spoke out against the administrators on the eve of the match, commenting on pay and contractual matters, although Zimbabwe Cricket have denied his allegations that players have not been paid for months. In an era when so many of the cricket administrators and boards are unpopular and in conflict with their players, we hope this does not give rise to further problems and complaints. It should be noted however that the ICC are introducing new standards of governance to the effect that countries whose cricket boards are subject to political interference and do not meet standards of financial probity and openness will not be permitted to play Test cricket. Zimbabwe, along with Pakistan and Sri Lanka, are probably the nation most in danger of falling foul of the stricture and it will be interesting to see if the ICC have the professionalism and integrity to make these rules meaningful.
Four of the Zimbabweans are making their Test debut. Fingers crossed, this match will be their first of many.