HomeSportSport Opinion: Test return: Why now is the right time

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I INTENDED to pen this column after the conclusion of Zimbabwe’s ongoing tour of the West Indies, which began yesterday with the first ODI in Guyana.

But for weeks I’ve been itching to voice my opinion on the topical issue of Zimbabwe’s Test return, and having decided that any outcome of that one-day series in the Caribbean won’t essentially affect my views on the subject of Test cricket, I went ahead.
I have keenly followed the debate over Zimbabwe’s return to Test commitments, and two viewpoints particularly stand out; those of Alistair Campbell and Dave Houghton — two of Zimbabwe’s most successful former captains.
Campbell, who is the national selectors convener, says the team should be ready in 18 months. Campbell is one of the most influential figures in Zim cricket these days and it is no wonder his vision has been adopted by the national board, which has given the new technical department headed by Englishman Alan Butcher the task of preparing the team for Test cricket within that period.
Houghton believes that Zimbabwe should in fact return to the Test arena immediately, or by end of year at the latest.
On face value, Campbell’s timeframe appears more practical. But when no less a man like Houghton talks like that, all of us must take it seriously.
In my view, no one is better qualified to determine if we are ready or not.
This is the man who was the country’s captain leading up to the attainment of Test status, ably leading the team in its maiden Test against India back in 1992. He therefore fully understands the conditions that existed back then to be able to draw comparison with today’s situation.
He knows the pool and quality of players that are needed, the readiness and the right environment that should exist.
I recall an interview Houghton did back in 1994 when he was captain.
“We are not tapping into our major population,” he told a journalist. “We are actually drawing our national cricket side from probably 200 people, and they (the other Test nations) are drawing from their full population. So that’s why they have so many numbers to pick from and so much talent. We will really do well to stay at this (Test) level with what we have. Until such a time when we can draw from our full population, we will always struggle. We might be able to maintain a level, but we will never get higher than that level.”
Sixteen years down the line, Houghton must have seen something convincingly good to conclude that playing Test cricket again would not be such an insurmountable task.
And it is not difficult to see why: a revamped, competitive domestic first-class structure, return of top players to the fold and a new spirit generally engulfing Zim cricket.
To buttress Houghton’s theory, I have compiled a list of players who could, as a matter of opinion, constitute Zimbabwe’s Test team if we are to return soon.
I have worked to it on the basis that players on Kolpak contracts in the UK will be available.
I believe we do have the right material and mix now, unlike three to four years ago, to sustain a place at Test level. To that effect, I see former captain Tatenda Taibu as a linchpin. Taibu learnt the art of the trade from the best. In his temperament, professionalism and strokes, it is clear he inherited the traits of his mentor, Andy Flower.
Hamilton Masakadza has already shown how destructive he can be, scoring a Test debut century as a 17-year-old and he will relish another shot at Test cricket.
Like Taibu, Masakadza will be a big, big Test batsman for Zimbabwe. The same can be said of Brendan Taylor and Sean Ervine. These four will form the nucleus of Zimbabwe’s batting line-up.
Veteran spinner Ray Price acquitted himself well at Test level early in his career, and his experience will count immensely.
I’m also particularly excited about legspinner Graeme Cremer. He already has six Test caps under his belt, and generating a fair amount of turn and letting rip a good googly as he often does, Zimbabwe will have a bowler they can rely on.
Upfront, Andy Blignaut will add to his 19 Test caps by spearheading the attack, backed by the likes of Sean Ervine and Elton Chigumbura in the seam department.
I will of course have left out so many talented players who could equally justify inclusion, for example, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Sean Williams, Gavin Ewing, Mark Vermeulen, Charles Coventry, Chris Mpofu, Tawanda Mupariwa, Dion Ebrahim, Alester Maregwede, Blessing Mahwire, Tino Mawoyo, Craig Ervine, Keegan Meth, Chamu Chibhabha, Timycen Maruma, Anthony Ireland and Keith Dabengwa.
I have to mention that coming up with my Zim Test XI was not a simple task. But it’s a positive dilemma to have one which, hopefully, serves as a good example of the depth that’s there now to play Tests. 
I have selected the best team, and simply not the best players who might well then constitute an unbalanced side.
Fortunately, this is only a fantasy team and many fanatical cricket lovers will have their own. It does however represent an opportunity for intense debate and exchange and I would regard that as good for the game.
My Zim Test XI
Vusi Sibanda, Brendan Taylor, Hamilton Masakadza,Tatenda Taibu (captain), Sean Ervine, Greg Lamb, Elton Chigumbura, Andy Blignaut, Graeme Cremer, Prosper Utseya, Ray Price.

Enock Muchinjo

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