Test matches (1): Zimbabwe 1, Bangladesh 0 One-day internationals (5): Zimbabwe 3, Bangladesh 2
Features : An historic occasion but an understated celebration
Series/Tournaments: Bangladesh tour of Zimbabwe
The sceptics were ready to pounce, but Zimbabwe's return to Test cricket after an absence of six years was nothing if not carefully organised. New Zealand A had visited to play three four-day games in October 2010, and Zimbabwe's build-up concluded with an intense one-day triangular against A-teams from Australia and South Africa, followed by two four-day matches against an Australia A side packed with Test players. They failed to beat any of these visitors, but the experience proved invaluable - so much so that the one-off Test in Harare against Bangladesh was won by 130 runs. "We did not go into it just wishing to be competitive," said coach Alan Butcher. "We believed we could win it, and that was how we played."
The disappointing truth, though, was that those warm-ups proved more testing than the real thing. Bangladesh, who had played no Test cricket themselves for 14 months, were dire: cowed by grassed pitches and uncomfortable in African winter temperatures below 20 ̊C, they lost the one- day series too, only recovering for two consolation wins in Bulawayo. A fortnight later, their captain, Shakib Al Hasan, and vice-captain, Tamim Iqbal, were sacked amid claims of indiscipline. For the new coach, Stuart Law, it was a sobering start.
Zimbabwe's Test victory, meanwhile, glossed over comments made 48 hours before the start by former captain Tatenda Taibu, who slammed Zimbabwe Cricket administrators for "struggling to run cricket in the country well". He added: "I don't think much has changed really. Zimbabwe Cricket has just painted a house that's about to fall."
Taibu's gripes were that players' match fees had not been paid for almost a year and that central contracts for the national players had still not been finalised. He had a point, but the implication that players were working for nothing was disingenuous. All had received their monthly salaries on time, even if match fees were regarded - questionably, it must be said - as "bonuses" by the players' bosses. Alistair Campbell, chairman of ZC's cricket committee, said: "If there isn't any money in the kitty then that's the reality of the situation. The players have their salaries and, as soon as it's possible, they will be paid their extra match fees."
Taibu was correct that confusion and a lack of understanding between players and administrators remained. But to claim that "nothing had changed" from the bleak days of the mid-to-late 2000s was wrong. A great deal had changed, not only in the administration but in the depth and quality of the country's cricketers.
That was never more obvious than when 21-year-old Brian Vitori, a left- arm seamer, exploded from nowhere to shape the result of the Test, then claimed unprecedented five-wicket hauls in his first two one-day internationals. Such was the potential of his new-ball partnership with Kyle Jarvis, backed up by the experienced Christopher Mpofu and Elton Chigumbura - not to mention the ever-reliable left-arm spin of Ray Price - that Campbell was moved to declare it the "best all-round attack Zimbabwe has ever had". Bangladesh saw it differently: "He's nothing special," said Tamim Iqbal of Jarvis; Vitori he branded "ordinary".
Yet Taibu's comments about the game's finances could not be completely ignored. The New Zealand A tour alone cost ZC over $400,000, and the bill before the full international season had even begun was over $1m. Television rights for the Bangladesh series brought in only $200,000 and, although crowds were encouraging, $3 tickets were not going to make much impression. "A lot of people were talking about the return to Test cricket as being the finish line," said Brendan Taylor, the new captain. "But it's just the start. We've got a long way to go and a lot to learn still."
Match reports for
Tour Match: Zimbabwe XI v Bangladeshis at Harare, Jul 30-Aug 1, 2011