Yesterday was a day for the little guys. Whilst Bangladesh launched a spirited fightback at Lord's, Zimbabwe were beating an admittedly under-strength India by six wickets in the first match of a triangular one day series also involving Sri Lanka in Bulawayo.
India thus joined Australia, Pakistan and West Indies as teams beaten by Zimbabwe in Twenty 20 and/or one day internationals in 2010. No doubt this will provoke more debate as to whether Zimbabwe should be fully readmitted to the ICC fold and once again join the test playing nations of the world. This is likely to prove as contentious an issue as that currently surrounding the appointment of John Howard as ICC President in waiting.
Zimbabwe's last test was in 2005, when India completed an easy 2-0 series victory by ten wickets in Harare. By this time, the problems in the country had led to the enforced retirement of most of its leading players like Andy Flower, Murray Goodwin and Henry Olonga and the side was a shell of the one that had actually been quite competitive at the turn of the century. No cricket fan will ever forget Olonga and Flower donning black armbands to protest against the "death of democracy" in Zimbabwe during the 2003 World Cup; for each it was the last time they represented their country, and for Olonga in particular it meant vilification from the regime and exile from his homeland.
In terms of competitiveness and cricket infrastructure, Zimbabwe is probably on a par with Bangladesh and could actually be stronger in test cricket given that a first-class set-up has been in place for a much longer period. New coach Zimbabwe Alan Butcher certainly believes that they will be ready for test cricket in a couple of years as this piece on Cricinfo explains. But we should perhaps be wary of people with vested interests.
Indeed, has the political situation changed to such an extent that it merits Zimbabwe's re-admission? Especially when considering that Robert Mugabe will undoubtedly use it to legitimise his corrupt and despotic regime. Despite Mugabe's power sharing agreement with Morgan Tsvangirai and the fact that the US dollar is now the nation's currency, which consequently means that the supermarkets are stocked with food again, is this enough for the ICC to welcome Zimbabwe back into the fold?
Ideally, sport and politics shouldn't mix but this would appear to be a legitimate exception. Is Mugabe still subjugating his people and syphoning off most of its wealth to an elite few whilst crushing any sign of dissent with overwhelming force? Will the farmers that have had their homes forcibly taken be allowed to return? And will Mugabe use the return of test cricket in Zimbabwe to legitimise his vile regime? The answers to these three questions are probably yes, never and of course, which should give the ICC plenty to ponder.
It is perhaps understandable that South Africa, grateful to Mugabe for his support and shelter to the ANC during the Apartheid era, is loathe to withdraw its support for his regime. As such Cricket South Africa will inevitably come down on the side of Zimbabwe's readmission. But the English, Australian and New Zealand representatives at the ICC will no doubt block this under pressure from their respective governments. It will certainly be a long, drawn out and bitter debate. One hopes that brave men like Olonga will be considered by the power brokers before they make their decision.
For now though, whatever the outcome, it is great to see a resurgence in Zimbabwe cricket even if it would appear to be far too early for them to play test cricket again. That perhaps should wait until Mugabe is either no longer at the helm or has at least been completely marginalised by a more open and democratic leadership.