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In an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent, ICC president Ray Mali, a staunch supporter of Zimbabwe and its board, admitted that the political situation was a cause for concern.
As the presidential election re-run approaches, the levels of civil unrest and tension have escalated, and Mali said that presented its own issues. "The ICC recognises that the conditions in Zimbabwe present a unique challenge to both Zimbabweans and to those visiting the country," he told the paper. "The ICC encourages the maintenance of cricketing ties between Zimbabwe and other ICC members as exposure is the only way that the players of Zimbabwe can improve.
"However, the ICC cannot control the views of members and, more pertinently, the views of the governments of those members, and ultimately cannot force A sides to visit the country or play against Zimbabwe as A side interaction does not fall under the Future Tours Programme. The ICC will continue to seek to encourage such interaction on an ongoing basis."
Zimbabwe have tried to engage A sides in matches, but with three Full Members - Australia, England and New Zealand - unwilling to play them for political reasons, and West Indies A declining to tour there on safety grounds, their choices are limited. The report states that the ICC wants to see Zimbabwe win 80% of games against A teams before there is any chance of them being readmitted to Test cricket. In six matches against South Africa, India and Sri Lanka A sides they have won only once
"The Zimbabwe team is inexperienced and so playing against players who have either played a great deal of high-level cricket already or who are on the cusp of doing so is obviously going to be a challenging assignment," Mali insisted. "On that basis it would have been unreasonable to expect the Zimbabwe team to sweep all before it.
"What the matches have done is to provide the players with experience that will help them to develop so that as and when the chance to return to Test cricket comes then it will not be such an enormous leap. That is exactly why the A team matches are important and the ICC encourages its members to take part in more of these to further aid Zimbabwe cricket."
While Zimbabwe Cricket has done well to keep the domestic competitions running in the last two months, the deteriorating political situation, as well as widespread food and fuel shortages, makes it increasingly unlikely that even those countries who have stood by Zimbabwe will feel inclined to risk a tour in the foreseeable future. India were scheduled to visit for some full ODIs this month but that was postponed indefinitely, ostensibly because of India's intense itinerary.
Mali confirmed that the ICC would leave the issue of Zimbabwe's return to Test cricket to their own board to recommend, but that the final decision would be with the ICC's executive.
"The ICC is kept informed by Zimbabwe Cricket chairman Peter Chingoka - and Norman Arendse, president of Cricket South Africa, which has offered to support in any way it can - at every ICC board meeting," he said. "Chingoka has undertaken to report to the board as and when it is felt that Zimbabwe is ready for a return to the Test arena and if he made such a report then the ICC board would consider its merits."