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Bulawayo to Kandy, the contrast between the hosts couldn't be starker

Hamilton Masakadza was visibly upset when he spoke of his failure in the match, and it is clear that his underperformance is weighing on him AFP

Bulawayo and Kandy have more in common than you may suspect. They are both their respective countries' second cities; they are both the sites of former kingdoms - the Kandyan in Kandy, the Butua in Bulawayo - and electricity has been a subject of discussion in both places. In Kandy, the talk was about why the lights stayed off at the Pallekele International Stadium during the Test match between Sri Lanka and Australia; in Bulawayo, it's about how ZESA, the national power authority, managed to keep the lights on this winter after severe load-shedding last year.

But there is one thing that is not the same: Zimbabwe, who were bowled out for 164 in the first innings against New Zealand, could not mount the same fightback as Sri Lanka, who were dismissed for 117 against Australia. Why?

There are the obvious reasons, which were feared before the series, and have been discussed on each of the three days so far. Zimbabwe's players don't get enough game time, not even in first-class cricket, and they don't have a deep enough player pool to fulfill all the requirements of a winning team. They also don't have a financially stable board, or many solid structural plans to back them, but Sri Lanka have managed to rise above that and, on occasion, Zimbabwe have, too.

Then, there are the less glaring factors to take into consideration; the ones that the modern age and its instant lifestyle cause us to forget even though they may still be relevant today. Put simply: competing properly in Test cricket takes a bloody long time.

Sri Lanka played their first Test 34 years ago, in 1982. Since then, they have competed in 249 matches. Zimbabwe played their first Test ten years after that, in 1992, and have only had 98 matches since then. Of those, Zimbabwe have won 11. In Sri Lanka's first 98 Tests, played over a period of 18 years, they won 18.

The evidence suggests the so-called smaller Test nations need several decades before they can develop the consistency of bigger ones. Even New Zealand, who first played in 1930, took 45 matches before they won their first Test, only won seven of their 98 Tests, and have only recently begun what is considered a steady improvement.

Perhaps, Zimbabwe can be forgiven for how long it is taking them to get things right, but that may not take away from the focus on their personnel. While Sri Lanka seem to find players who become match-winners - Kusal Mendis and Lakshan Sandakan are their latest - Zimbabwe have an oversupply of what seem to be middling cricketers. Perhaps, conditions in Sri Lanka allow for the development of more specialised skills than those in Zimbabwe, where pitches tend to follow a trend of slow, low and unexciting, and produce a glut of batsmen with averages in the 20s, part-time spinners and medium-pacers.

Zimbabwe don't have players who bamboozle and blaze, but slowly, they are finding a small selection of those with quiet determination. Look at Brian Chari. With a first-class average of 20.89, he may not come off as an immediate candidate for a Test call-up, but in the absence of regular openers Vusi Sibanda and Tino Mawoyo, and on the back of a 98 against South Africa A, he was selected and then asked to do much more than he would have expected.

Chari, who hadn't kept wickets in his two Tests prior to this, had to take over after Regis Chakabva took ill. He had to do it for 166.5 overs, over more than five sessions. He had to stand up to Graeme Cremer, who was turning the ball out of the footmarks. He made a few mistakes and missed a few chances but, for a first-timer, he did an adequate job. And then, just when he thought he could put his feet up, he was called in to bat in the first over, when his senior-most team-mate, Hamilton Masakadza, was dismissed cheaply for the second time. It's hardly surprising Chari could not cope with a Boult inswinger and left a bat-pad gap for the ball to find his off stump, and even less so that Masakadza lauded his effort.

"A lot of credit to him for the way he has carried himself. He has never kept before, and to have kept the way he did for a day-and-a-half really showed a lot of heart," Masakadza said.

Zimbabwe also don't have the old hands like Herath, but if they can hang on to their players with experience, they have some who are willing to take responsibility. Their captain, Graeme Cremer, bowled 35 overs on the second day, including 26 in one spell, and Masakadza himself is an example. He was visibly pained at the post-play press conference when he spoke about his own failure in this match, and it's clear his underperformance is weighing on him. "My biggest disappointment is the way I got out in the first innings. It's still playing on my mind. I was set and I could have dragged the innings a little deeper. As a senior player, it's never easy to take when things go awry," he said.

Where Zimbabwe get it wrong is that the energy of youth and the wisdom from their experienced players rarely have the kind of meeting Mendis and Herath had in Kandy. They don't fire as a collective unit. Sometimes, that is because they're not playing in the same team. Sibanda or Mawoyo, for example, could have been the perfect foil for Chari. Tinashe Panyanagara or Tendai Chatara would have complemented Michael Chinouya. Injuries have been mostly to blame for them missing each other, circumstance and selection may also be the cause.

Some curious picks in Zimbabwe's squad, which did not seem to be based on first-class numbers or recent form, and a recent change in coach and captain have meant Zimbabwe are unsettled in every way. Compare that to New Zealand, who are set to have Mike Hesson at the helm until 2019, a stint of seven years, and who enjoyed a smooth transition from Brendon McCullum to Kane Williamson, and it's clear why the hosts are playing in such helter-skelter fashion and the visitors in entirely the opposite.

Zimbabwe almost beat New Zealand at this venue five years ago. That they are being so badly outplayed now is a sign both of how much they have slipped since then and of how much New Zealand have progressed. If Zimbabwe hope to turn Bulawayo into Kandy one day, they have to find a way to close that gap.