Tests the ultimate goal for Zimbabwe - Houghton
Dave Houghton hopes to play a major role in returning Zimbabwe to the Test arena as he prepares to head back to his homeland and take up a position with the board. Houghton, the former Zimbabwe captain, has made a home in England but has been out of coaching since leaving Derbyshire in 2007 and is expected to take up a senior role in the Zimbabwe set-up.
"I'm not quite sure what it will entail yet," Houghton told Cricinfo, "but it will be nice to go back to Zimbabwe. I was born there and played there for many years so it would be good to have a role in bringing the game back."
Zimbabwe suspended themselves from Test cricket in 2005, after being unable to field a competitive side following the mass exodus of players, and are currently playing four-day cricket in the Intercontinental Cup alongside one-day internationals. Houghton, who was Zimbabwe's first Test captain and scored 1464 runs at 43 during his 22-match career, believes it is a realistic aim for the country to return to the fold, but they need to play sustained, good-quality first-class cricket.
"I definitely think so, they are desperate to return to Test level," he said. "At the moment I see them as being at the level they were before we got Test status. In my view they are better than the Associates, but not quite up to Test standard yet so are in limbo.
"Test cricket is the ultimate goal, Zimbabwe need to get back into the Test arena and the hierarchy out there will have their own ideas, so it would be wrong of me to second guess their plans," he added. "However, the crucial point is to have meaningful first-class cricket and these new franchises that have been formed will hopefully help that."
Houghton is one of a number of former players returning to aid Zimbabwe with Heath Streak lined up as head coach while Alistair Campbell, another former captain, is expected to take up a batting role. Andy Flower, Zimbabwe's best batsman, has been lost to the country and is forging a strong reputation with England, so Houghton knows it's important they make use of as many of their former players as possible.
"We are the ones with expertise and knowledge and there are others who I hear are interested to come back as well," he said. "It would be a waste not to involve us in the cricket with all the years we have played. We need to get good coaches involved and also get matches against A sides and maybe counties. That was a very important part of our evolution when we were first getting Test status and it would good to see them come back."
And he still believes some of the players who had quit a threadbare side may yet return to the fold in the coming months and years. "The door is never closed on anyone. I hear Dion Ebrahim [the opening batsman] is interested in coming back. Zimbabwe Cricket can open the door for them to come back, but it's also pleasing to see that there is a crop of youngsters coming up who have been through the tough times."
Despite moving his life to England and developing strong coaching credentials alongside some TV commentary work, Houghton has kept in close touch with Zimbabwe's performances. He still has many strong links to the country, while the slowly improving situation has given him cause for optimism about the future.
"England is now home, but I've been following their scores closely, it's good to see them playing regularly again," he said. "There are a number of reasons I'm heading back, I still have family and property out there. I hear from a lot of people that things have picked up on the ground. Switching from the Zimbabwe dollar to US dollar has helped quell the hyper-inflation so hopefully things are looking up."
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo