Zim cricket on the crawl out of darkness

cricket_kenya_zimbabweRUSTENBURG Dave Houghton, one of the most famous names in Zimbabwean cricket once said that in order to effectively harness talent at grassroots level one cannot ignore incorporating the majority of the people living in that country. (Pictured: Cricket -- Kenyas Steve Tokolo

Houghton, a pioneer of Test cricket in Zimbabwe, was so committed to the establishment of a cricket school that would encompass this ideal to such an extent that he embarked on a sponsored walk from Bulawayo to Harare to raise funds for the project.

Today, his academy located in the leafy Newlands suburb of Harare stands proud as the first cricket school of excellence in the country.

And to this end, there have also been credible efforts by those within cricket circles to bring to fruition such a noble ideal with the likes of Stephen Mangongo and Givemore Makoni taking a leading role in the establishment of Takashinga Cricket Club, which became the first fully fledged black owned club to compete in the national league.

Retrogressive political agendas

However, over the years, the need to incorporate the majority of the black population into the game has been used as an excuse to ferment racism and promote some retrogressive political agendas by those at the helm of Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC).

Thankfully, if the recent developments within the game are anything to go by, then Zimbabwe is now moving out of those dark ages that saw it losing a number of world-class players, ultimately bringing the game to its knees a development that led ZC to voluntarily suspend its status as a Test cricket body in order to save face.

It has become apparent that a new era may finally be dawning for cricket lovers in Zimbabwe, whose emotions have swung from two extremes within a decade from the joy of witnessing a resounding Test and one day victory over England in 1999 to the anguish in 2009 of losing to Bangladesh a team they could have easily beaten with a second string side during their prime.

Cricket South Africa (CSA) has offered a helping hand and an arrangement with ZC meant to revive the standard of the game in the country to its former levels over a period spanning about three years is on the cards and is set to be concluded next month, according to media reports.

Vital springboard

Information gathered by The Zimbabwean on Sunday revealed that the agreement is meant to expose the majority of the less experienced Zimbabwean players to first class cricket at a very competitive level.

If such an arrangement materialises, it will provide a vital springboard from which Zimbabwe can re-launch its bid to become a Test-playing nation again.

But the road is unlikely to be an easy one.

In fact, the coaching department might have to get used to some likely heavy losses that will come about because of the gulf in terms of standard that exists between Zimbabwe and South Africa.

But while Zimbabwe might be bereft of world-class players, a positive factor is that a few of them have played at such a high level before.

Tatenda Taibu may no longer be the darling of the nation but this is a man schooled by Andy Flower. Flower as avid followers of the game would know was rated the best test batsman in the world during his prime and unselfishly imparted both his batting and wicket-keeping skills to Taibu.

It is Taibus experience in both these departments that makes him invaluable to the younger players coming through, as they can be able to feed off this rare familiarity with both bat and glove.

First class cricket exposure

Hamilton Masakadza another experienced batsmen has also played at Test level before and in 2005 he was ranked 56th on the Test rankings. At 26, Masakadza still has age on his side and perhaps his full potential may be realised by more first class cricket exposure.

While Mark Vermeulens inability to rise above his emotions at the moment might be unfortunate, it represents a chance for other batsmen to rise to the occasion and the selectors should therefore throw caution to the wind by experimenting with a few combinations up the order.

Raymond Price is the most experienced bowler in the country at the moment and with five years of Test cricket to his name, he has a lot that he can teach the younger players. He has taken 69 wickets at an average of 35,86 runs and the distinction of having five wicket hauls in as many games sets him apart.

There is a general feeling within local cricket circles that Price might have reached the levels of Paul Strang if the game had not been politicised.

The likes of Elton Chigumbura and Graeme Cremer as well as the other bowlers coming through will benefit from the presence of Price.

Return to Test cricket

Zimbabwean cricket might be at its lowest ebb at the moment but many observers feel that a return to the Test cricket scene is certainly feasible since the country has travelled down such a road before.

The possibility of an agreement between CSA and ZC has triggered excitement among some leading cricket writers in South Africa, who believe that Zimbabwe has a lot of expertise to offer to South Africa in terms of putting in place policies that would provide a regular supply of quality black cricketers from which the national teams can feed.

Such anticipations have been heightened by a general feeling within the cricket fraternity in the country that Makhaya Ntini who has for a long time carried the mantle of being South Africas only regular black strike bowler in both Tests and one day internationals has now reached his prime.

Writing for a South African weekly sports publication in December, one cricket writer while acknowledging ZCs political challenges praised the union for nonetheless pursuing a deliberate development policy which has unearthed decent international cricketers.

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