Zimbabwe confident of keeping Test status

Published: Wednesday, June 2, 2004, 23:53 [IST]
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Harare:Zimbabwe are unlikely to play Test cricket when they tour Pakistan in October but the Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) expects England to fulfil their Test fixtures in Harare and Bulawayo the following month.

There has been no contact with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) since a report in a Pakistan newspaper that the PCB were considering cancelling the Tests and bringing Zimbabwe into a One-day International tournament with West Indies and Sri Lanka.

"We would be amenable to that" the ZCU chief executive Vincent Hogg said. "We haven't discussed it yet with the PCB, but I'm sure that would be a practicable course to take."

On the other hand, England remains committed to two Tests and four (down from five) One-day Internationals, as far as the ZCU is concerned despite last month's agreement with Australia to postpone for at least four years their two scheduled Test matches.

The ZCU are also confident they will retain Test status when the International Cricket Council (ICC) meets in three weeks. That meeting will be attended by chairman Peter Chingoka and Hogg.

"There could be a moratorium on Tests for six months or may be a year," Hogg said on Wednesday.

"However, we will have our ZCU annual meeting in Harare towards the end of July and a possible change of directors might make a difference in the approach to the player crisis."

Changes could make it possible for some of the sacked white players to resolve their differences with a new ZCU Board and return.

From the day that the players demanded the reinstatement of sacked former captain Heath Streak on April 2, some directors have been openly hostile towards them. The inference is that they might not be re-elected.

The present "best available team" is effectively a very young Second XI well short of Test standards.

Zimbabwe were heavily beaten in all five ODIs by Sri Lanka in April-May and in the third of those matches scored a total of 35 runs, the lowest in ODI history.

The Tests were lost by an innings and 240 runs and an innings and 254 runs.

Australia, playing far below their fiery best, beat the Zimbabweans by seven wickets, 139 runs and eight wickets in three One-day Internationals.

If Zimbabwe do lose Test status, the impact on cricket in the country could be devastating.

Since gaining admission to the cricket elite club in 1992, Zimbabwe has built up an employee list of 250 people full time, including a player base of more than 70, with coaches and medical personnel, ground and admin staffs as back-up. It has built one of the world's best academies.

More than 100 youngsters have been funded for a full-time education while preparing for a cricket career.

A massive surplus from the 2003 World Cup has been spent on development of provinces, clubs and school cricket -- including the laying of scores of concrete wickets - funding of equipment plus considerable ground improvements at Harare Sports Club and Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo.

These include spectator stands, corporate boxes all taken up, media centres and entertainment areas, quality dressing tooms and admin facilities.

Two large cricket clubs, one in each of the densely populated suburbs of Harare and Bulawayo, have been recently created and financed.

Zimbabwe have already lost more than 250000 dollars in television fees from the postponement of the Australia Tests. If the Tests against England do not go ahead, a similar sum will be forfeited, and much more if the entire tour is scrapped.

When England refused to play in Zimbabwe in the World Cup during February last year, there was a considerable dent in TV income.

Zimbabwe's entry into Test cricket 12 years ago was a difficult birth. Despite winning the ICC trophy three years in a row and despite support from six of the eight Test nations at that time (1990-92) England and Australia stubbornly used veto powers to keep Zimbabwe out.

What swung it in Zimbabwe's favour was the agreement to set up of a first class domestic structure and huge ground improvements sufficient to meet big-match requirements, together with a planned major development programme.

The first country to visit was India, with Zimbabwe drawing their first Test.

Since then Zimbabwe have a relatively poor record although they have shown they can produce upsets at the limited overs game.

The ICC must now decide whether recovery is possible.

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