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Too many weak teams a cause of concern
by Renin Wilben
Dec 02, 2008
How many cricket lovers bothered to watch the recently concluded ODI series between Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe which the former won 5-0? In all probability, the answer will be very few. And it is not only because Zimbabwe are a weak side. They always were but of late their players have become unrecognizable.

Owing to the political turmoil in the country, all the leading cricketers have either quit the game or shifted their focus to county cricket. This has left behind a team of club quality standard. And but obvious the cricket lovers are not too intrigued.

It is a very sad state of affairs as though Zimbabwe have always been a minnow in world cricket, during the mid and late 90s they produced some very competitive cricketers who on their day could beat the best. The likes of Flower brothers, Paul Strang, Neil Johnson, Alistair Campbell and Heath Streak were quality cricketers of their time.

Ask India who were most often at the receiving end. And even when Zimbabwe lost, which was more often than not the case, they won many hearts with their spirited performances. And their spectacular fielding raised their game to a higher level. This is what is lacking in the present Zimbabwe squad and for understandable reasons. In the current scenario, the future of Zimbabwean cricket looks very bleak. In fact one wonders whether it has a future at all.

Like Zimbabwe, New Zealand too are struggling these days but for a different reason. Most of their top players have quit almost simultaneously and the team has a completely different make up from the one that featured in last year's World Cup. Kiwis' most successful batsman Nathan Astle stunned everyone when he decided to call it quits just prior to the World Cup. It has been well over a year and New Zealand continue to struggle at the top of the order.

It hasn't helped that former skipper Stephen Fleming, who was an indispensable part of the squad for over a decade, is also gone. And so have the other crucial members of the squad like Craig McMillan and Shane Bond, who prefer the ICL experience. Further, the talented Marshall twins, of whom so much was expected, have failed to live up to the expectations. Among the current crop of players, all-rounder Jacob Oram is more often out of the squad with injury. This leaves present skipper Daniel Vettori and wicket-keeper Brendon McCullum as the only two quality players in the squad. That's exactly why they struggled even against Bangladesh.

Terrorism might be posing a big threat to cricket but the lack of competitive teams at the international level is an equally big worry. Zimbabwe and New Zealand apart West Indies continue to remain unpredictable. The passion with which they played the sport in the 70s and 80s is clearly lacking. It is a certainty now that they won't regain their lost glory. The shoddy manner in which the 2007 World Cup was organized turned out to be the proverbial last straw in the back.

Bangladesh may have a big fan following but their team has a long way to go before they can be taken out of the minnow bracket. More so now that most of their experienced cricketers including their skipper have shifted loyalties to ICL. And that leaves only Australia, India, Sri Lanka, England, South Africa and Pakistan (who survive on pure raw talent) battling it out for supremacy.

The ICC has been talking about making cricket a global sport. But when four of the ten Test nations are not even of international standard, it is a far-fetched dream just like politicians' dream of transforming Mumbai into Shanghai when they cannot even ensure the safety of people in the city. Bringing in more minnows at this stage would further depreciate the quality of cricket which is already at an all-time low.

With cricket in the sub-continent under a cloud, it is all the more important that other teams are engrossed in entertaining, absorbing duels. Unfortunately, that is far from what is happening and as a result the sport as a whole is suffering. The fortunes of international can only be reversed if the likes of New Zealand and West Indies improve their state of cricket appreciably. Whether and when that will happen is something only time can answer.

 
More Views by Renin Wilben
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  The sad demise of Windies cricket
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