Zim cricket needs Test reinvention

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ZIMBABWE might have rejected the proposal at the International Cricket Council (ICC) of a new two-tier system for Test cricket designed to split teams into two leagues but, frankly speaking, a sense of us and them already exists and continues to deepen in the cricket-playing world.

Sports Panorama: Enock Muchinjo

A slight relief for Zimbabwe and the other smaller nations is that India and Sri Lanka have both joined them in opposing the creation of Test divisions, but from where we stand looking at cricket in entirety, it is hard not to see the clear separation naturally taking care of itself — whether by new performance-based reforms or other means — all likely to further harm the growth of the game.

For the first time, Zimbabwe (which has automatically qualified since gaining Test status in the 1990s, might not play in the World Cup when the tournament comes around again in 2019 in England and Wales.

It will be of catastrophic proportions to the game in Zimbabwe.

How Zimbabwe can possibly miss out of a World Cup slot in 2019 is that ICC has not only cut the number of participating teams from 14 to 10 but has also introduced a new World Cup system which will see the lowest ranked ODI teams as of September 30 this year play in a qualification event with lower tier sides, with the top two from that competition joining eight automatic qualifiers for the World Cup.

Instead of boosting its global popularity by increasing the number of teams in the World Cup, cricket is instead choosing to remain an elitist sport.

As for Zimbabwe, we have become the hardest hit victim of this growing partition of cricket at the top — most of the damage being of our own making.

While the top eight ODI sides (including long-time fellow strugglers Bangladesh) were concluding the ICC Champions Trophy in the UK, our team was instead heading south of England for an ODI series in Scotland, a cricketing backwater of note.

This has been our new playground and status of recent times.

Our last series, earlier this year, had been in defeat at home to Afghanistan, who though rapidly growing and on the verge of Test cricket, are still trying to find their footing among the big boys of the game.

While in Scotland, the new status appeared to stalk Zimbabwe cricket. Even fate and nature seemed to be against the African side when rain and controversy officiating last week connived to hand the Scottish side a historic first ODI win over a Test-playing team.

Thankfully, Graeme Cremer and his men bounced back strongly to win the second game. But history will record, though, that the series was drawn 1-1 — a very memorable result for the Scots, and not-so-good for the Zimbabweans.

As we speak, the Zimbabwe team is in the Netherlands, preparing for five ODIs and a lone Test match in Sri Lanka.

It will be eight months after Zimbabwe’s last Test match, and over two-and-a-half years since they last played away in this format!

This is not nearly good enough, if you add that Zimbabwe had also not played Test cricket in England, Australia, India or South Africa for many years.

The proposed split Test cricket, for the benefit of those not familiar with it, would have meant two leagues, with seven nations in tier one, and five, including two new Test nations (Afghanistan and Ireland) in the second tier.

This would have meant more games between the second tier sides, with a relegation-promotion system in place, and also occasional series by these teams against the top nations.

It would for a much longer period keep the smaller teams apart from the top sides, yes, but certainly more Test games amongst themselves.

This rather brings Zimbabwe’s opposition to the new Test system under scrutiny and I would like to hear a convincing argument from ZC in this aspect.

Is Zimbabwe happy to maintain the status quo of the old Test order, even under these undesirable prevailing conditions in which their Test commitments are sporadic, and they do not play a Test match abroad for over two years and also face the real possibility of not playing at the World Cup for the first time since 1983?

Just last month we celebrated announcement of a US$94 million injection into Zimbabwe over a 10-year cycle.

This is very good news. But how sustainable is this kind of funding when Zimbabwe is in all seriousness a token Test nation?

The increased funding is pleasing development, but only if a significant amount goes towards reinventing Zimbabwe as a bona fide Test country and full member of ICC, because at the moment it is not.

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