Despite winning their last Test match – against Pakistan 11 months ago – Zimbabwe could do with winning regularly in an attempt to avoid the potential trapdoor to the five-day format that will open with the arrival of the ICC Test Challenge in 2018.
The inaugural winners of the Intercontinental Cup will earn the chance to play against the lowest-ranked Test team, with the chance of displacing them and gaining Test status.
For Zimbabwe, they need to maintain their current position of ninth in the rankings, one place above Bangladesh. However, it is now nearly 16 years since the African nation were outright winners in a series against anyone other than the bottom-ranked Test side.
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Upcoming South Africa series
And who better to try and rectify that against, than the team currently topping the standings? A solitary Test against South Africa begins this Saturday, which will be the Zimbabweans first taste of the longer format in almost a year.
Meanwhile their neighbours have just returned to the summit of the world standings after a 1-0 series win over Sri Lanka.
With so little five-day cricket currently played by Zimbabwe, do they still merit a place in the purest form of the game?
Sure, they have only ever lost one series to Bangladesh, but the chasm between the top eight and the bottom two Test sides continues to extend. A 24-run win over Pakistan in Harare last September was a result that surprised a lot of people.
But the inability to produce performances like that on a regular basis sparks the debate that perhaps both Zimbabwe and Bangladesh should be downgraded to associate members of the ICC.
A recent 2-2 ODI series draw at home to Afghanistan showed that teams below Zimbabwe in the pecking order are making ground on them. The potential of a Test play-off in four years time is becoming a more and more exciting prospect.
For whoever may be bottom of the Test rankings at that time – more than likely either Zimbabwe or Bangladesh – it could be a really tough contest.
Regardless of who the victor is, the gap to the more established Test playing nations is going to provide some uneven match-ups.
In the past we have seen the likes of Ireland and Afghanistan come to prominence against the top teams at international tournaments, which has been aided by the amount of cricket they have played against other associate members.
Whilst competing with the best is always going to help sides improve, perhaps Test match cricket amongst associate members could prepare countries better prior to their Test debuts.
Zimbabwe and Bangladesh may also benefit from getting some much needed practice against weaker sides. A winning momentum could then be carried through to matches against Test sides.
Nevertheless, at present it feels as if these two nations are just making up numbers in the Test arena, and that they don’t offer enough of a challenge to sustain a place at the head table of international cricket.
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