Money may make the mare and a lot of teams in international cricket go these days but there is an exception -- Zimbabwe. The team is quiely making its presence felt and countries which have been in the game for a long time are slowly realising that they had better take what they once considered as mere pushovers a lot more seriously. There is some kind of hunger for recognition within the Zimbabwean ranks, something which no other team has in such measure. And the dedication which the Zimbabweans show -- not all the team are professionals -- puts a good many others to shame. To me their whole attitude is summed up by that man Dave Houghton -- hell, he was still in the team at 40 and he was no passenger at that age!
The first indication Zimbabwe gave that they would amount to something more than the poor cousins of international cricket was when they defeated Australia in the third World Cup. Then they had India, the eventual winners, struggling, before Kapil Dev played an innings of character. The next time around, in 1987, the Zimbabweans were responsible for one of the thrillers of the tournament, when they went down to New Zealand by just three runs in Hyderabad, with Houghton hammering a memorable century.
After Zimbabwe gained full international status, they haven't had that many tours. But when they have either gone on tour or been allowed to host a team, they have showed sterling qualities. They have beaten Pakistan in a Test match, run England very close in the Tests when the Poms toured the country and defeated them in the one-day series handsomely.
As if that wasn't enough, they made India sweat to enter the finals of the triangular tournament in South Africa last year. They have always given a good account of themselves at Sharjah -- or let's say as good an account as they are allowed to. And for the most part they have run other teams close -- that is when they have had the chance to tilt at them. Unfortunately, they haven't had the chance to play Tests against teams like Australia and the West Indies; thus experience is something which they will gain only slowly.
This is not something the team or the board can rectify on its own; the ICC has to play a hand in ensuring that the budding teams get a chance to play the stronger teams if it is really serious about this business of helping the game grow. There should be chances for Zimbabwe to play in different conditions and against as many teams as possible; then, and then only, will the team mature.
For the moment, their motivation is high. They have a lot to prove and they are doing a good job of it. New Zealand, no strangers to international cricket, are having their hands full trying to cope with the Zimbabweans. Two Tests ended in draws, with the home team calling the shots most of the time, and the one-dayers look like following a similar route. The first ended in a tie and was a lot more exciting that many other matches which get a lot of hype because of the teams involved. The two which follow are sure to be equally keenly contested.
Were the team to turn fully pro, that may bring about some kind of a change in attitude -- money has been the main factor which has turned the head of many a cricketer and made him insufferable both on the field and off -- but this will take a long time. Somehow I can't see that happening to this team, not unless they start getting above themselves. Right now, they are doing a great job for themselves and their country and serving the game very well.