THE International Cricket Council (ICC) does not have definite dates for Zimbabweâ€™s return to Test cricket- and for the first time- shown concern over Zimbabweâ€™s suitability to host matches due to the political situation in the country.
Responding exclusively to questions by this paper, ICC president Ray Mali maintained that Zimbabwe Cricket will approach ICC when ready to resume Test commitments, but the final decision will lie entirely with the ICC board.
“The ICC is kept informed by Zimbabwe Cricket chairman Peter Chingoka â€“ and Norman Arendse, president of Cricket South Africa, which has offered to support in any way it can â€“ at every ICC board meeting,” Mali said
“Mr Chingoka has undertaken to report to the Board as and when it is felt that Zimbabwe is ready for a return to the Test arena and if he made such a report then the ICC board would consider its merits.”
Last year ICC recommended to its Full Member countries to assist Zimbabwe with preparations ahead of Tests resumption, by sending their A sides to play four-day matches in Zimbabwe. According to unconfirmed conditions, Zimbabwe must win at least 80% of the matches in order to be immediately reinstated.
Honouring the ICC recommendation, A sides from South Africa, India and Sri Lanka have already toured Zimbabwe. Without a win in the six first-class matches played, the Zimbabwe team had a success rate of just under 10%.
Mali however said: “The Zimbabwe team is inexperienced and so playing against players who have either played a great deal of high-level cricket already or who are on the cusp of doing so is obviously going to be a challenging assignment. On that basis it would have been unreasonable to expect the Zimbabwe team to sweep all before it.
He added: “What the matches have done is to provide the players with experience that will help them to develop so that as and when the chance to return to test cricket comes then it will not be such an enormous leap. That is exactly why the A team matches are important and the ICC encourages its members to take part in more of these to further aid Zimbabwe cricket.”
Also as part of the ICC recommendation, West Indies A were scheduled tour Zimbabwe in August, but cancelled the visit after their players were concerned about the security situation in Zimbabwe.
Further dealing a blow to Zimbabweâ€™s preparedness test, Mali said ICC will not enforce the remaining A sides to tour Zimbabwe due to the security issue.
“The ICC recognises that the conditions in Zimbabwe present a unique challenge to both Zimbabweans and to those visiting the country. The ICC encourages the maintenance of cricketing ties between Zimbabwe and other ICC members as exposure is the only way that the players of Zimbabwe can improve. However, the ICC cannot control the views of members and, more pertinently, the views of the governments of those members and ultimately cannot force A sides to visit the country or play against Zimbabwe as A side interaction does not fall under the Future Tours Programme. The ICC will continue to seek to encourage such interaction on an ongoing basis.”
Cricket South Africa, which swiftly responded to the ICC recommendation, had included Zimbabwe in the countryâ€™s first-class competition, the four-day Supersport series.
Provincial power however prevailed over the CSA decision after franchises declined to play the Zimbabweans due to their late inclusion in South Africaâ€™s premier domestic competition.
Zimbabwe were however drafted into the 50-over MTN domestic championship and the Standard Bank Pro20 competitions, where despite some impressive wins and few outstanding individual performances, the team was generally outplayed.
“Given the sideâ€™s inexperience it has to be said that the tournament (MTN championship) was a definite step in the right direction for Zimbabwe cricket,” said Mali. ” The side won its last four matches which illustrates that the more it played the better it got and in the end came very close to a semi-final berth which would have been an outstanding achievement given collectively it had a lot less experience than the teams it came up against. The players will definitely have benefited from the matches played and with experienced players like Tatenda Taibu and Ray Price coming back and performing well there is definite reason for optimism as a result of the MTN tournament.”
Mali, a South African, said his country, through the CSA, will intensify its assistance to Zimbabwe.
“South Africa has undertaken to assist Zimbabwe in whatever way it can to help ensure it continues to improve, with participation in the MTN tournament one example of that. Cricket South Africaâ€™s President, Norman Arendse, will keep his fellow ICC Directors abreast of the situation.”
By Enock Muchinjo