Zimbabwe in West Indies, 2009-10 February 24, 2010

Houghton targets Test return this year

Cricinfo staff
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David Houghton, the former Zimbabwe captain who is now a consultant with the team, believes the side should be back on the Test scene by the end of the year after improvements on and off the field in recent times.

Zimbabwe Cricket has laid out an 18-month plan for a return to the top flight - after Zimbabwe took a self-imposed exile in 2005 when it became clear they couldn't field a competitive team - but as the squad arrived in Trinidad for their short tour of West Indies, Houghton said the comeback could happen more quickly.

"I personally think that we should be playing Test cricket again by the end of the year," said Houghton. "We have been playing one-day cricket, but you cannot judge a team on one-day cricket.

"Since I returned to Zimbabwe four-and-a-half months ago, things have improved with their cricket. They have a very good franchise system going in their domestic tournament, and it is helping the game back home."

Zimbabwe recently appointed Alan Butcher as their new coach but Houghton will oversee the early part of the tour before Butcher joins up with the squad midway through the tour. Houghton isn't expecting miracles from the team, despite West Indies' winless tour of Australia, but knows how important it is that they are competitive to show a Test-match return should be considered.

"We have a young team that is talented, and we are hoping to win, but more importantly we want to be competitive with West Indies," he said. "We have some very talented players in the Zimbabwe team and they are ready for a good battle.

"West Indies were blasted out by really quick bowling in Australia. We offer them a different attack, so West Indies losing in Australia is not really that important to this series."

Alongside Butcher the new coaching structure will be made up of former players Heath Streak and Grant Flower. "This is an important tour for us and the world is looking at Zimbabwe cricket in terms of our progress," said Streak. "We have got to start winning matches and our goal is to get back into Test cricket in a year-and-a-half. The guys are working very hard at this, and this tour is very important in this regard."

Zimbabwe open the tour with a 50-over match against a University of the West Indies Vice-Chancellor's XI on Friday before the Twenty20 international on Sunday. The one-day series then begins in Guyana next Thursday.