Amol Rajan: Zimbabwean cricket has begun its journey back to respectability

Rajan's Wrong 'Un

Largely unnoticed by their brethren in the international cricket community, Zimbabwe have slipped back into the Test arena after a self-imposed ban of six years. The ban might have come anyway, because of the impossibility of institutional operations under Robert Mugabe's tyranny.

But their exile was keenly felt, and events of the past few days offer mixed clues to whether Zimbabwe can again become a competitive Test-playing nation.

Zimbabwe's has been a remarkable evolution. When Dave Houghton led a bunch of amateurs on to the field against India in Harare in 1992-3, spectators everywhere expected a spanking. It didn't come. Instead, the minnows established a first-innings lead and only failed to secure victory because of a superb century by Sanjay Manjrekar. As Liam Brickhill of espncricinfo.com noted this week, in that Test Houghton became the first player to score a century on his country's debut since Kent-born Charles Bannerman hit 165 for the Australians against England in Melbourne in 1877.

By the late 1990s, the Zimbabweans had several very talented players, including the Flower, Strang, and Whittall brothers, Heath Streak and Murray Goodwin. But the retirement of those players coincided with a decline in fortunes. In 2005, they were thumped inside two days by South Africa and New Zealand, then embarrassed by India. Tatenda Taibu, the diminutive and loquacious wicketkeeper from Harare, described that first day against South Africa at Newlands as "the worst day since I started playing for Zimbabwe".

Unfortunately, the players have still not received their fees for the World Cup. Nor have they been paid for the past 12 months or signed contracts for this match. That is why Taibu, who follows Sydney Barnes, Bishen Bedi and Warwick Armstrong in demanding better deals for players, was at it again.

"I don't think much has changed really," he said. "When you walk around and you see a house that's painted well you will think that house is really standing strong. But if it does not have a strong foundation, it will fall down one day or another. Zimbabwe Cricket [the new governing body] has just painted a house that's about to fall."

His ire was mainly directed at the chairman of selectors, Alistair Campbell, who described the comments as a "slap in the face" and promised that he would "have it out" with the player. But then a funny thing happened. Campbell and ZC Managing Director Ovais Bvute issued a statement saying they could tolerate such dissent, and "wish him [Taibu] the very best in the Test match. He is one of our finest cricketers". Their maturity was a pleasant surprise.

Zimbabwe's players still live in the shadow of a despot, have scarce resources to work with and a weak domestic competition. But if the players work hard, Zimbabwe's six-year hiatus may come to be seen as a glorious pupation.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her in Latakia
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report