It's baptism by fire for Zimbabwe's new boys

Published: Wednesday, August 11, 2004, 23:53 [IST]
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Harare:Zimbabwe supporters will hope a resolution to the cricket crisis that has seen 15 of their senior players axed can be reached before the country's scheduled return to Test cricket in January.

Zimbabwe, in the absence of former captain Heath Streak and most of their first-choice team, have seen a new look side frozen out of Test cricket by the International Cricket Council (ICC).

In the meantime a Zimbabwe side made up of untested teenage schoolboys and others in their early 20s have been given a programme of warm-up games against 'A' sides from India and South Africa before a full Test tour of minnows Bangladesh in January.

The Asian nation, the whipping boys of Test cricket, have been steadily improving and on the evidence of India 'A's recently concluded tour of Zimbabwe could, in the New Year, inflict some heavy beatings of their own for a change.

Two of Zimbabwe's games against India 'A' finished early on the third day. India 'A' won the first match by nine wickets and the other two by ten wickets. All three were close to margins of an innings.

Zimbabwe's fledglings can expect little respite against a South Africa 'A' side which on Wednesday begins the first of two four-day games in Bulawayo with three One-day matches to follow.

Cricket in the troubled African state has been torn apart since the Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) sacked then skipper Streak in April after the fast bowler, now at English County Warwickshire, accused the Union of making some team selections based on race rather than merit.

When his colleagues tried but failed to get Streak reinstated they went on strike in protest.

That led the ZCU to sack a total of 15 senior players, all white, a massive loss for a country with an already small playing base.

On Tuesday, the ICC announced that a two-man panel comprising India's Solicitor General, Goolam Vahanvati and South African High Court Judge Steven Majiedt would carry out an independent review into allegations of racism in Zimbabwe cricket.

The duo will then hold hearings in London (September) and Zimbabwe (October) before the duo report back to the ICC board at its next meeting, in October in Lahore, with both findings and recommendations.

In June, world cricket chiefs suspended Zimbabwe's Tests for the rest of the year, against Pakistan and England.

However, their One-day Internationals remained intact and England are due to play five such games in Zimbabwe in November.

The messy compromise followed huge defeats by Sri Lanka in April and May when Zimbabwe were without the sacked 15.

Sri Lanka won both Tests by an innings and about 250 runs and then bundled Zimbabwe out for a new record One-day International low of 35 runs. Australia and afterwards Pakistan declined to play Tests against Zimbabwe, forcing postponements of the fixtures for at least five years.

Even if they come through with credit against Bangladesh, Zimbabwe then face the arduous prospect of a One-day and Test tour of neighbours South Africa, one of world cricket's strongest nations, starting in February.

Before then, the 'new' Zimbabwe go to England for the ICC Champions Trophy One-day event, a mini World Cup.

That is followed quickly by a One-day series in Pakistan before the squad whizz off to Bangladesh via India, who have offered the chance of some last minute cramming before the exam proper.

Many within Zimbabwe cricket wanted a longer 'development' period with an international return until the scheduled arrival of New Zealand and India in September and October 2005.

But that option is not on the table and Zimbabwe coach Phil Simmons, the former West Indies all-rounder, said of his novice charges: "They are coming along well and I am pleased with their progress. But it all takes time and there isn't a lot."

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