As the captain of a team that is attempting to make tangible progress in the Test arena, Jason Holder can sympathise with Zimbabwe. And having seen Windies take a few steps forward this year, Holder believes that his side can provide something of a blueprint for Zimbabwe as they attempt to resurrect their Test cricket.
Windies’ series victory over Zimbabwe today represented their first since Holder took over the captaincy more than three years ago, but in 2017 they have also won Tests against Pakistan (two) and England. For a team in their position, that represents progress for Windies, who were rewarded by climbing above Bangladesh on the ICC rankings table into eighth.
Zimbabwe are unlikely to ever rise above 10th on that table, given that the two points they earned for a draw in the second Test lifted their tally of ratings points from zero to two. Ninth-placed Bangladesh have 72. But with Brendan Taylor and Kyle Jarvis back in their side, and other players improving, there is hope that Zimbabwe can register some other form of tangible progress. Holder believes it is possible.
“It reminds me a lot of our side maybe a year and a half ago,” he said. “Many of us were looking to come into international cricket and were relatively inexperienced. I think it’s a situation for Zimbabwe to remain patient. They could look at what we’ve done with developing with a core group of players and just giving them some time. It will take time before they get the results, but if they play more cricket and stick together then there will be some results in the future.”
Holder was complimentary about a team that pushed Windies throughout the second Test, and could have taken charge of it but for a few key decisions during the tourists’ innings. “They’ve played some reasonable cricket in the series – Hamilton (Hamilton) got a hundred, (Sikandar) Raza’s got two fifties, (Peter) Moor got a fifty, Graeme (Cremer) got eight wickets in the last Test, so there is obviously some talent there,” said Holder. “They have the experience of Brendan Taylor coming back, and Kyle Jarvis has some years left. I think you guys have got a lot of talent here, and if you put the right things in place, keep a core group of guys together and move forward, you’ll be in a lot better stead in a few years’ time.”
While that may have sounded encouraging for the home side, there was also a word of caution from Windies coach Stuart Law about the pitches. Wary of the pace in the West Indian bowling attack, the Zimbabweans requested slow, dry surfaces and got them.
While Law could see Zimbabwe’s short-term thinking in preparing a pitch that gave the home side a better chance of avoiding defeat, he warned that they were unlikely to improve their game in conditions that prohibited attacking cricket. He then went further, suggesting the Queens Sports Club pitch – which saw just 161 runs scored and three wickets taken on the final day – was killing Test cricket.
“To play your cricket on slow, turgid, nothing wickets is not really going to set yourself forward and continue your growth to win games of cricket. We have issues around the world with the quality of pitches, especially when a touring team lands on your shores. I’d just like to see a more even contest between bat and ball,” said Law.
“We’ve come from England where the ball was swinging and seaming, it provided great cricket. There are a lot of people saying that Test cricket is dying, on a pitch like that it is. No disrespect – they utilised what they had to get ahead, but for the growth of the sport, I think we need to be growing on better pitches.”
Law’s opposite number, Heath Streak, explained that the pitch for the second Test had not gone according to plan. “We wanted a wicket that would spin and break up, but the weather conditions on day one and two (when it was unseasonably cold and rainy) made the deterioration of the wicket much slower than it ought to be,” he said. “Normally in October you get those hot, dry days and then that deterioration happens a lot quicker.”
While Streak was pleased with the fact that Zimbabwe have scored in excess of 300 in five of their last six Test innings, he was disappointed with the number of soft dismissals throughout the series against Windies. On the bowling front, Zimbabwe’s spinners carried the attack – particularly in the second Test when Jarvis sat out with an ankle injury and the conditions offered nothing to the seamers.
The coach was hopeful that by the time Zimbabwe next step out in a Test match, against South Africa in Port Elizabeth on Boxing Day, he would have more bite in his pace attack with several fast bowlers due to return from injury.
“Carl Mumba has been out, I’m not sure where he’ll be by then,” said Streak. “We’ve got guys performing well, like Richard Ngarava. Tendai Chatara was injured so he wasn’t really in consideration here, but hopefully he’ll be back in consideration for that Test series. We know what he’s capable of. Brian Vitori is also due to do his re-test (on his action). So we should have more options at that time.”