SOMETIMES I just wish my Bengali could go beyond kemom achhen, aami tomake bhalobashi. It’s something like hello, I love you — if I still recall anything from the little lessons I got from the congenial people of Bangladesh wh
o were eager to let me “feel” how they were elated to humble our team in January.
Nonetheless there’s little doubt the cricket-crazy Bangladeshis were last week left deflated as they forlornly watched their national team being hung out to dry at Lord’s after an innings and 261-run mauling at the hands of England inside two-and-a-piece days.
It’s not that anyone gave Habibul Bashar and his lads any chance in their first Test against an England side that also ruthlessly humiliated South Africa at home earlier this year.
Looking at the embarrassment of talent teeming in Bangladesh, it’s at this time that I feel compelled to commiserate with the Asians.
I get angry on behalf of the Bangladeshis when those who claim to have the game of cricket at heart rub their hands gleefully at the demise of their side.
They have done so with Zimbabwe too. And they won’t zip up their orifices!
The international media don’t make it any easier, and they just splodge vinegar and salt on a fresh wound when Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are trampled on by the big guns in the elite Test group.
Believe it or not, it pains us more as Zimbabweans when we are thrashed than it does respected commentator Richie Benaud — who led Australia in 28 of his 63 Tests and never lost a series as captain — who thinks the minnows should be dropped from senior international cricket.
Benaud, who slammed the Lord’s mismatch last week as an “absolute shambles”, is adamant that Zimbabwe and Bangladesh’s continued flirtation in the Test group is neither good for the game nor for the teams themselves.
A very myopic view, Mr Benaud, which smacks of selfishness that borders on elitist segregation. I’m not qualified to degrade your judgement of the game, for you were the first player to complete the all-round double of 2 000 Test runs and 200 Test wickets. But I know when views are unfair.
There are many who think like Benaud — and it’s sad when even former Zimbabwe internationals that left for one reason or another join the bandwagon.
We don’t care whether they have an axe to grind with one official or many at Zimbabwe Cricket; they should instead be helping the national team steer out of the woods if they really have the game at heart.
They should be grateful it’s Zimbabwe’s Test status that made them who they are today. It’s the reason whatever they utter — nonsense or constructive criticism — gets noticed and published.
For anyone to call for Zimbabwe’s suspension from Test cricket is nothing short of absolute folly, as Bangladesh coach Dav Whatmore observed this week.
But there’s no doubt Benaud and the bandwagon want top-quality cricket. And we all agree we want to see Zimbabwe last all the five days in Test matches.
It’s sad when spectator apathy hits the wonderful game of cricket, worse still for a Zimbabwe that has relied on schoolchildren to fill up the Harare Sports Club. It’s tantamount to treachery to the millions who follow the game religiously when they are subjected to mismatches that mock their passion.
It’s absolutely pointless to have the easybeats around only to boost averages for the Jason Gillespies, Graeme Smiths, Andrew Flintoffs, Sanath Jayasuriyas, Inzamam-ul-Haqs, Stephen Flemings and Brian Laras of this world. It must certainly not be an opportunity to break records without raising a sweat.
There’s no doubt confidence of Bangladeshi and Zimbabwean cricketers will be left battered when runs fly all over off their bowling. It’s bad news too for the batters when they face a flurry of deliveries they can’t steal runs from.
But it would be downright dereliction of responsibility by Australia, England, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, West Indies and New Zealand if they were to flush Zimbabwe and Bangladesh out of the elite league. It will be a travesty of justice.
For a start, 10 countries is not too much for Test cricket. It would be ideal to have as many countries as possible playing first-class as well as international cricket.
Of course most of the top cricket nations are already complaining of the taxing touring schedule involving the 10 Test sides. But talking of restricting the amount of Test matches played by Zimbabwe and Bangladesh is retrogressive.
Why is it there’s only talk of a two-tier system when Zimbabwe and Bangladesh do badly? England and New Zealand have been in the woods before, and no one dared talk about their demotion.
Instead of discouraging Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, the elite sides should help the easybeats learn the ropes. A positive move would be probably fielding less strong sides against the weaklings, an opportunity for England or Australia’s fringe players to have a feel of the game at the top level.
That would certainly give Zimbabwe and Bangladesh the confidence. It would boost morale if Andy Flower, Alistair Campbell and Neil Johnson were to say something positive and encourage the current crop representing Zimbabwe.
It’s unfortunate Zimbabwe suffered a setback when Andy quit international cricket at a time he was really needed. The same can be said of Campbell, Johnson, Murray Goodwin and Guy Whittall.
The recent dispute between Zimbabwe Cricket and white players was deplorable, for it gave critics the ammunition to rally for the country’s indefinite suspension from Test cricket.
Many made it conditional that Zimbabwe should only be allowed back into Test cricket if former captain Heath Streak and other white players returned to national duty.
Streak came back. And so did established players Andy Blignaut, Stuart Carlisle, Trevor Gripper as well as rookies Barney Rogers, Gavin Ewing, Charles Coventry and Neil Ferreira.
Things are getting back to normal. Why now does someone want Zimbabwe out before we have had an opportunity to field our strongest side in a Test?
Zimbabwe’s debacle in Bangladesh and the mauling at the hands of South Africa earlier this year is regrettable. We feel sorry for the youngsters who were thrown into the deep end when they had hardly played meaningful first-class cricket. Zimbabwe really missed their experienced players.
There’s still hope that Grant Flower, Ray Price, Sean Ervine and Travis Friend might have a change of heart and return to national duty.
With skipper Tatenda Taibu, history-making Hamilton Masakadza, Douglas Hondo and the new crop of players fast-tracked onto the international scene such as Tinashe Panyangara, Edward Rainsford, Elton Chigumbura, Brendan Taylor, Prosper Utseya and Graeme Cremer, Zimbabwe can be a competitive outfit.
Of the 79 Tests they have played, Zimbabwe have won only eight, drawn 26 and lost 45. It’s a pitiful record, but I believe slowly Zimbabwe will stand up among real men.
It’s also up to the Zimbabwean cricketers to aid their cause on the international scene. If a call-up to the national team does not mean anything to them — of course there’s a small player base — then they had better rot in mediocrity as well.
The potential is there, but it’s not good to stretch the patience of the cricket-loving fraternity by failing to nurture that potential into world-class glory.
I hope I’m not waiting to be embarrassed very soon when New Zealand and India come. Not that I tip Zimbabwe to win, but competitiveness is the name of the game.