There’s nothing to beat winning in order to make people take notice. Sri Lanka competed on the world stage for a decade and a half without ever overcoming the reputation as plucky losers than Bangladesh currently endure.
It was only when the islanders launched a brand new, innovative style of cricket that transformed everybody’s belief in what was possible and how the limited overs game should be played, and won the 1996 World Cup, that their opponents took them consistently seriously.
Zimbabwe cricket has already had several moments in the spotlight but that was over a decade ago and they have it all to do again to convince the major nations that they can, and will be credible competitors on the world stage.
Rebuilding the infrastructure of the domestic game an removing bias and prejudice from its administration was a vital start but nobody was going take a serious interest until the national team starting winning. Now, despite a disappointing capitulation to Sri Lanka in the final of the Triangular series, they still emerged with a brace of victories against India and an overall record of three wins from five matches.
Eyebrows started rising in Mumbai from day one when the hosts chased down 280 to beat what is, to all intents and purposes, an India ‘A’ team. By the end of the tournament interest was being shown around the rest of the cricket playing world – Andy Flower received calls from the hyper-critical and cynical English media and there was even word that the Australian government had lifted its blanket sanctions on sporting contact with the country.
What has made the difference? The appointment of Englishman Alan Butcher as coach? The return of former players to key positions within the game, notably former captains Dave Houghton, Alastair Campbell and Heath Streak as consultant, convenor of selectors and national bowling coach?
All of the above have made a difference, no doubt. But the most important additions to the national squad have been ‘hope’ and ‘purpose’. Whereas there are undoubtedly worse careers in the world than playing intermittent bilaterial ODI series against Bangladesh and Kenya, everybody needs goals to aspire to in life and sportsmen, especially, need room for their ambitions to grow.
An experience of the biggest stage at the recent T20 World Cup gave many of the players their first taste of what the game can offer and, as the talk of a return to Test cricket intensifies, they are training and practising harder, and with more purpose, than ever before.
Afghanistan have proved that fairytales are possible, that a structure exists within the ICC for players and teams to fulfil even their wildest dreams. If, like the Afghan players, Zimbabwe Cricket can convince those who matter that cricket can exist autonomously from government and be apolitical, then there is no reason why they can’t return quickly to a deserved place at the high table.
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