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What the current Zimbabwe side might look like were it not for politics and politicians

The return of Tatenda Taibu to international reckoning only serves to highlight what might have been had dozens of Zimbabwean players not been driven abroad either by the country's deteriorating political situation or the behaviour of its cricket board. We take a look at what the current side might look like in a perfect world.

Dion Ebrahim on his way to 71 against South Africa in 2005 © Getty Images
Dion Ebrahim (age 28, last played in 2005)
A middle-order batsman who had to open more often than not through necessity, Ebrahim is also a very athletic fielder whose one-day figures do not really do him justice. During the 2004 player-board dispute he stood by the board, after which he found himself one of the side's elder statesman, though he was only in his mid-20s. But his loyalty was not rewarded and for reasons that have never become clear, even to him, he was not offered a central contract in 2005 and was left with fees owing. Disillusioned, he walked away and has since been playing club cricket in England.
Trevor Gripper (31, 2003-04)
Not a crowd-pleaser by any measure, Gripper - who scored 60 against Australia on his debut - was, however, what was needed at the top of the order and what Zimbabwe have failed to find since - a solid and reliable batsman who could see the shine off the ball and grind bowlers down. But he was one of the rebels and his father, Ray, a former national cricketer himself, was viewed by the establishment as being a troublemaker. Gripper jnr went on to play for a season in England before retiring.
Grant Flower (36, 2004)
While brother Andy has retired and gone into coaching, Grant continues to play for Essex and remains supremely fit - the reason he is included despite being at veteran status. While his bowling is used far less than it was, he remains a reliable middle-order batsman. His career effectively ended with the strike where he emerged as an authoritative spokesman for the players.
Stuart Carlisle (35, 2005)
An athletic fielder and capable batsman who would probably have done better had he not been forced to bat up and down the order as needs demanded, he was an ever-present in the side, scoring a hundred against Australia on the tour before the rebel strike, of which he was a part. Unlike many others he returned to Zimbabwe in 2005, scored another Test hundred, and then quit for good saying: " I am fed up by what is happening and I just walked away. I'm tired of the politics."

Sean Ervine celebrates a hundred at Lord's in front of a packed house at the 2005 C&G Trophy final © Getty Images
Sean Ervine (24, 2004)
Possibly the biggest loss to the game in Zimbabwe came when the multi-talented Ervine walked away and headed to Australia in the wake of the 2004 dispute. He was 21 when he played the last of his five Tests and 42 ODIs and yet already had a good Test average of 32.62; in ODIs his strike-rate - 85 - and useful seam bowling would have made him a certainty. A sign of how good he is came last year when he broke into the Western Australia side.
Tatenda Taibu (wk, 24, 2005)
Another who quit, walking out in November 2005 after his family was threatened by people with links to the game. He tried to forge a career in Bangladesh, England and Namibia but struggled, and returned to play for the side in July 2007 (he had always maintained a home in the country). The one class act in the current side, he can keep, bat, and bowl seam, and few would have moaned had he been picked in the ICC World XI in 2005.
Travis Friend (26, 2004)
A fast bowler and hard-hitting front-foot batsman, he overcame a serious injury but, like so many, his career ended when he joined the rebels. He played briefly for Derbyshire before drifting out of the professional game.
Andy Blignaut (29, 2005)
An allrounder who bowls fast and hits the ball hard, and a good fielder as well - not to mention a male model - he clashed with authority more than once and it was no surprise when he joined the rebels in 2004. He returned after unsuccessful stints with Tasmania and Durham, but then refused to play when the board was unable, or unwilling, to pay him and others their dues. The money remains outstanding, Blignaut remains in South Africa. The loss in Zimbabwe's.
Heath Streak (capt, 33, 2005)
To many people, the likes of the Flowers and Streak epitomised Zimbabwe cricket in the early 2000s. Streak was their very own Shaun Pollock, and the rock of the side with bat, ball and inspiration. He tried to remain above the increasing politics but in 2004 he led the rebels in the standoff and bore the brunt of the resulting firestorm. Nevertheless he returned in 2005, but when offered the chance to captain Warwickshire in 2006 he took it and that effectively ended his international career. He is not the player he was, but he would still walk into any Zimbabwe side.

Success against India for Ray Price © Getty Images
Ray Price (31, 2003-04)
A proven talent as a wicket-taking left-arm spinner in Tests, and economical in ODIs, Price is still better than any of the slow-bowling alternatives Zimbabwe have since tried out. Combinative and tireless, he threw in his lot with the rebels in 2004, after which, seeing the writing on the wall, he headed to England where he joined Warwickshire. In 2006 he expressed an interest in qualifying for England.
Anthony IrelandOne of the next generation, Ireland was from the post-Streak era and the kind of cricketer that Zimbabwe had to hold on to. While his performances with the ball were not outstanding, he showed enough promise to be signed by Gloucestershire immediately after the 2007 World Cup and there is little doubt that he would have been - and possibly still could - be a bedrock of the national side.
  • The selection of this XI provoked much debate. I asked editorial colleagues, journalists both inside and outside the country, as well as current and former players for their opinions.
  • We discounted those who had retired for reasons of age - such as Andy Flower and Neil Johnson - and others who, while still young enough, were considered to have had injuries which probably would have ruled them out, such as Henry Olonga and Douglas Hondo. Murray Goodwin, while still playing, quit for family rather than other reasons.
  • We also did consider the current XI but the general view was that none of them would be able to make this side, although some players would come close.
  • We were still left with a more than useful list of reserves: Gavin Rennie, Barney Rogers, Craig Ervine, Craig Wishart, Colin de Grandhomme (now qualifying for New Zealand), Clint Heron, Brighton Watambwa (who now lives in the USA) ...
  • Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo