Published on November 7th, 2018 | by Abhishek Mukherjee1
Was Sylhet Test the turnaround Zimbabwean cricket needed?🕓 Reading time: 3 minutes
“True, the fans at Sylhet have witnessed the ignominy of a defeat at home against Zimbabwe. But a time may come when they will tell their grandchildren how they were there when Zimbabwe cricket had resumed their ascent”
Despite the absence of Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal, Zimbabwe were not expected to win the first ever Test at Sylhet. But then, they won a crucial toss, reached 282, reduced Bangladesh to 19/4, and eventually obtained a 139-run lead. From that point only one result was possible.
This also means Zimbabwe cannot lose the 2-Test series, which means they will won’t fare worse than what England or Australia have fared over the past two years. The enormity of the win may be emphasised by the fact that this was only their third overseas Test win – in 26 years.
Congratulations to Zimbabwe on a well deserved away Test Match victory against Bangladesh. Really spirited effort despite so many challenges. #BANvZIM
— VVS Laxman (@VVSLaxman281) November 6, 2018
While the defeat broke many a local heart (you can hardly blame them: which venue wants a debut of this sort?), it was also the single most important incident to take place in Zimbabwe cricket of late – and we are not discussing on-field performances here.
Zimbabwe Cricket has had its share of turmoil. A string of miserable defeats had led to ICC stripping them of their Test status in the past decade. While they gnawed their way back, things were hardly the same for them. While one may argue that most sides have had their share of rough patches, Zimbabwe’s crisis is far more deep-rooted. And things have only turned worse this year.
For the first time since 1979, Zimbabwe did not make it to the World Cup after not making it to the final of the Qualifiers they hosted earlier this year. ZC immediately sacked their entire coaching staff (headed by Heath Streak), chief selector Tatenda Taibu, and captain Graeme Cremer. ZC Managing Director Faisal Hasnain resigned shortly afterwards.
Amidst all this, their perennially rising debt had risen to USD 18 million by July. ZC failed to pay even the cricketers’ salaries. Five major cricketers – Cremer, Brendan Taylor, Sean Williams, Sikandar Raza, and Craig Ervine – opted out of the Zimbabwe Tri-Series in July.
Then some respite arrived when ICC came to their aid, assuring funding “on a controlled basis”. ZC promised to pay the pending salaries at the earliest and agreed to work with ICC to form a plan that would help Zimbabwean Cricket recover from scratch.
Then, in September, Streak filed a petition, appealing for the liquidation of ZC to pay their humongous debts. As mentioned above, Streak was part of the coaching team they had sacked earlier in the year. Streak had not received his fees; neither had batting coach Lance Klusener.
Meanwhile, ZC had managed to pay off some pending salaries. Raza agreed to tour Bangladesh only after his central contract was renewed in end-September.
— The Zimbabwe Sphere 🇿🇼 (@ZimSphere) November 7, 2018
Despite all this, Zimbabwe continued to play cricket. Their record against the top teams has been abysmal, which is understandable given the turmoil they have been through for a decade and a half. However, they have played acceptable (though not outstanding) cricket for some time now against the middle-of-the-table teams.
Earlier this year they beat both Afghanistan and Ireland in the World Cup Qualifier; before that they beat Sri Lanka (eventual champions of the Bangladesh Tri-Nation Series); they won the ODI series in Sri Lanka last year; and made it to the final of the Zimbabwe Tri-Nation Series in 2016, eliminating West Indies en route.
But what about Test cricket, a format they rarely play? Do note that “rarely’ is not a figure of speech here: the Sylhet Test was Zimbabwe’s first in 2018. They have not won a Test in ages, which they could have last year.
In fact, they almost stunned Sri Lanka at Premadasa. They set 388 and even had Sri Lanka at 203/5 before the Test slipped through their hands. Three months later they reached 316 while chasing 434 against West Indies and drew the other Test honourably.
England and Australia have both failed to win series in Bangladesh over the past two years, and it is unlikely that South Africa (who were recently humiliated in Sri Lanka) or New Zealand will do much better here. Bangladesh also won a Test in Sri Lanka last year.
A Test win on Bangladesh soil is, thus, significant for any team, but given what Zimbabwe cricket is going through, this may be the lifeline they needed. Perhaps this one win will help them find their way back to where they belonged after those years spent in the wilderness.
True, the fans at Sylhet have witnessed the ignominy of a defeat at home against Zimbabwe. But a time may come when they will tell their grandchildren how they were there when Zimbabwe cricket had resumed their ascent.