Zimbabwe search for the silver lining

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The Independent Online

In the best of all possible worlds this tour by Zimbabwe would not have taken place, but now that it has started, their players have every right to be accepted and judged as serious cricketers. They are fighting to keep their country alive in the present series as well as trying to ensure that the game continues to survive back at home.

In the best of all possible worlds this tour by Zimbabwe would not have taken place, but now that it has started, their players have every right to be accepted and judged as serious cricketers. They are fighting to keep their country alive in the present series as well as trying to ensure that the game continues to survive back at home.

Cricket in Zimbabwe has a fragile foundation with only four first-class sides although once there were six. As in South Africa, cricket has been perceived there as a white man's game. Strenuous efforts are being made to spread the base to include all races, but they are being hindered by the prohibitive cost of equipment and the obvious lack of money in the prevailing conditions.

There are five black players in the Zimbabwe party and three of them, Doug Hondo, Dion Ebrahim and Mluleki Nkala, come from privileged backgrounds while Tatenda Taibu, the 20-year-old wicketkeeping vice-captain, and Vusi Sibanda are from humbler origins and have fought their way up through the development programme. It is worth pointing out that if this tour had not taken place, it would have been a considerable blow to the future of Zimbabwean cricket.

It is not all that far from extinction in any event. Money and exposure are both crucial ingredients and this tour is providing both. It has also produced plenty of publicity, which is splendidly and handsomely hostile to the dreaded Mugabe. He might not have received this in the same quantity if the cricketers had stayed at home.

Heath Streak's side has been written off as a bunch of inexperienced no-hopers without a chance of surviving against England, especially at the damp end of the summer. Although this may be, anyone who has been at Lord's these last three days will have admired the spirit of the Zimbabweans and have noted the potential that is undoubtedly there.

They have had the worst of the exchanges so far, principally as a result of their general inexperience in English conditions. They won what seemed to be an important toss, not least because of what might have happened to their own batsmen in the seaming conditions on the first day.

They bowled well on the first day although luck was against them - why is it that luck almost invariably follows the big battalions in these situations? Andy Blignaut bowled beautifully early on - moving the ball up the slope from the Pavilion End and giving Michael Vaughan as embarrassing a time as any bowler in the world could have managed (pace Glenn McGrath). They also have a fine orthodox left-arm spinner in Raymond Price.

Zimbabwe needed 273 to avoid following on and in an awkward period of 17 overs at the end of the second day, they made a reasonable start with Ebrahim showing great spirit and a considerable talent. He fought on for 160 minutes before being a trifle unlucky to find Andy McGrath in the gully when he drove at a wide half-volley.

The other batsmen did not cope with the moving ball as well as they would have done if this had been the fourth or fifth match in a five-Test series rather than the first in a two-match series. The figures from Lord's so far in this match obviously do not tell much of a story for Zimbabwe, but, nonetheless, they have shown that there is plenty to hope for.

If the present group of players can keep the game going until times change and prosperity returns to Zimbabwe, they will have ensured that there will then be a solid and presentable base to build upon.

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