Time for action over Zimbabwe's on-field performances August 9, 2005

How much longer must this go on?

Unless the authorities act soon, the future of cricket in Zimbabwe is being endangered by their refusal to realise that the current situation cannot continue

Another Zimbabwe wicket tumbles ... but that was hardly a rarity © AFP

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On Sunday at Edgbaston, we witnessed Test cricket at its very best in an epic match which went down to the wire. If that was the international game at its best, what was laughingly labeled as a Test at Harare Sports Club yesterday was it at its worst.

The dictionary defines a Test as "a procedure for critical evaluation; a means of determining the presence, quality, or truth of something." However you interpret that, what went on in Harare was nothing close to fulfilling that definition. The quality of Zimbabwe cricket and its right to be deemed fit to mix with the best in the world was clear for all too see.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the political background which has stalked, and some would say blighted, Zimbabwe cricket in recent years, the blame for yesterday's farce was not the fault of the Zimbabwe board. Yes, that the side that took the field was so weak was partially the result of its questionable management and partially the legacy of the way the country as a whole is run, but the game should never have happened in the first place.

The calls for Zimbabwe and Bangladesh to be stripped of their Test status have been doing the rounds for some time. But comparisons between the two are misguided. Whereas Bangladesh is a generally cricket-mad country which can - and will - only get better, Zimbabwe is in terminal decline, in more ways than one.

A minority sport, and one for many years almost exclusively a white preserve, the numbers playing the game were always tiny in a country less than a tenth of the size of Bangladesh in the first place. Political upheavals which led to the emigration of a majority of those who played the game seriously undermined cricket's future. Commendable attempts were and are made to keep the flame burning, but with little to build on and almost no money in the pot, the signs are that it is fast being extinguished. To only ones who can save it are those running world cricket.

So desperate are certain members of the ICC to keep Zimbabwe in the fold - and the reasons are as much to with who supports who in a hugely political environment - that all calls for their Test status to be reviewed are flat batted by those who decide such things with a skill woefully lacking in any of Zimbabwe's batsmen yesterday. But Zimbabwe's continued presence makes a mockery of sport, and it has gone on long enough.

Stuart Matsikenyeri loses his middle stump during Zimbabwe's humiliation by South Africa earlier this year © AFP
For much of last year, Zimbabwe were able to deflect criticism by pointing out that many of their first-choice players were on strike. But against New Zealand, they fielded their strongest side for the first time since March 2004, and on home soil for good measure. That made the outcome even more alarming.

Even the government-backed Herald had seen enough. "Maybe the umpires and the match referee should have ordered the teams to get the second Test underway And it would have been finishing anytime from tomorrow." reflected Lawrence Moyo, who was last month named the country's Cricket Writer of the Year. "If what was on display at Harare Sports Club yesterday is too be reviewed at the highest level then Zimbabwe should not be playing Test matches in the interests of the world's Test match standards."

If the situation is now being questioned so publicly inside Zimbabwe, then the cricketing world - and I don't mean the administrators who are not representative of the rank and file - saw the reality some time back. The ridicule with which yesterday's game was received showed that nobody is fooled. Even in winning inside two days, New Zealand at times appeared to be on cruise control. An outing against a half-decent club side would have tested them more.

The only hope now for Zimbabwe cricket is that they are put into intensive care and relieved of the burden of suffering incessant international drubbings. The endless humiliations will eventually kill the game for good, but with some careful management it might survive. Less exposure to the big guns, more lower-key tours, and some targeted funding could just keep it limping along. But so severe is the problem, that it is possible that things have already gone too far.

Sadly, the latest farrago is likely to be brushed aside, as have all the previous ones, and the integrity of Test cricket, which some claim to put so much store in, will continue to be eroded, along with the future of the game in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe's Test record since April 2004

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Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo