Zimbabwe cricket team is in the headlines for their recent much awaited triumph against Bangladesh. This is their first test win in 5 years, and first away test win in 17 years.
It was an emotional moment for the team, in fact for the whole country. For Hamilton Masakadza, the team’s captain and the most senior player it was a great moment of joy and redemption. Masakadza who has just played 37 test matches in his 17-years long career, led the way with handy 52 and 48 batting at the top in both innings of the Sylhet test. More contribution came from Sean Williams, whose crucial 88 in the first innings earned him the Man-of-the-match award, Sikandar Raja, Wellington Masakadza and debutant Brandon Mavuta, whose 4 wickets were third-best bowling performance for any Zimbabwean bowlers in their first test.
Their previous test match was more like an experimental day-night four days test match against South Africa almost a year back which they lost within two days and could bat only 72 overs combining two innings. More disappointing was in store in March this year when, in their den, Zimbabwe failed to qualify for the Cricket World Cup next year. It was one of the saddest days for Zimbabwean players who have not missed any ICC tournament even during the days of chaos.
But it’s not just poor cricket that is responsible for this crisis of Zimbabwe cricket team. It’s a lot more than that, a lot more excruciating and depressing.
Whenever we talk about Zimbabwe cricket team, it reminds us about their heydays in the late 90 and early 2000. A strong Zimbabwe team consisted of players like Alastair Campbell, Heath Streak, Henry Olonga and above all Andy Flower used to be a threat for everyone in world cricket. But post 2003 allegedly during the regime of President Robert Mugabe the entire nation was going through a crisis due to strong racism against the whites. The cricket team wasn’t an exception. Moreover, it was in the hands of cricket administrators unfit for the job. Senior players like Andy Flower and Heath Streak went onto a protest because they were not paid. Reduction in Government funding for the sports development, political influence in the team, quota system to ensure a minimum number of black player inclusion gradually became threats for the white players in the country.
One of the biggest incidents was the ‘black arm-band protest’ during 2003 Cricket World Cup ‘mourning the death of democracy’ by Henry Olonga and Andy Flower, post which Olonga had to go into hiding and finally he moved to England. In 2004, just a couple of days before a series against Sri Lanka, the white captain of Zimbabwe cricket team Heath Streak was sacked for standing up to the Zimbabwe Cricket Union on players’ grievance which resulted in a standoff between 15 players from national team and board. The board announced 18-year old Tatenda Taibu as the new captain and gave him a team of untested, mostly black players. The team performed miserably. Zimbabwe scored their record lowest total of 35 in ODIs against Sri Lanka. But instead of resolving the issue and calling back the rebel players, the board agreed with the ICC to stop playing test cricket for a year. The scenario in the country was also deteriorating and the counts of racism-driven crimes against the whites were increasing. All this turmoil hit the economy of the country also and the value of Zimbabwean dollar started to fall.
In the cricketing field, it was a sad story of a young team trying to find their feet and failing without a proper guidance. A number of controversies affected Zimbabwean cricket one after another leading to the mass loss of players, a long period of rebuilding and occasional hiding from the international scene. In 2005 the board further got involved in a legal battle with the recently sacked coach Phil Simmons. In 2006, the Zimbabwean government replaced the ZCU and thus the last hope of the revival of Zimbabwean cricket was probably also disappeared. The final nail in the coffin for Zimbabwean cricket team was to lose the test status in 2006.
Between their debut in 1992 to end of 2003 Zimbabwe played 71 tests winning 7 against teams like India and Pakistan. But in last 15 years, Zimbabwean cricket team has played only 35 test matches and won just 5. Four of those victories came against Bangladesh. The team appeared rarely in the international arena with very few significant successes like beating Australia in the first edition of World T20 in 2007 or beating a lackluster Pakistan side in a test match in 2013.
Fortunately, Zimbabwe regained the test status in 2011 but the team is still struggling to claim the lost flame. That’s why this Test win against Bangladesh in Sylhet early this week is significant. Bangladesh may not be a top test team and also was not in usual form due to the absence of injured Shakib Al Hasan and rested Mustafizur Rahaman, but this win matters for Zimbabwe. It will give lots of hope and confidence to this Zimbabwe team.
Zimbabwe hasn’t witnessed away test victory for more than a decade. A glorious team of 90’s couldn’t give anything to an entire generation of cricket lovers to cheer for. So this victory matters. In fact, the cricket world is not just cheering for this win, it is hoping for a historic comeback of Zimbabwean cricket. As per ICC FTP (Future Tour Program), Zimbabwe is scheduled to play only 18 tests in next 5 years, much less than Top teams like England and South Africa. Numbers may be very few compared to others, but each match is an opportunity to take back all that is lost. Each match will showcase the skill and talent and will give back everything the traditional Zimbabwean cricket deserves. Let’s hope that Zimbabwean cricket will continue to fight for a glorious future. Let’s hope this victory will be a platform to seek all the opportunity from the ICC in future and to shine in biggest of the stages in coming years.