Zimbabwe are keeping one eye on the challenges ahead as they go into their last and inconsequential World Cup match against Kenya at Eden Gardens on Sunday.
Principal among them is their return to Test cricket, a format they have not played in since September 2005. Their last Test was the one where Sourav Ganguly captained India for the final time.
Starting this August, Zimbabwe will play a Test each against Bangladesh, Pakistan and New Zealand along with a handful of one-dayers, all at home.
“You might be wondering if we are going to be ready for the challenge and the honest answer to that is, probably, no, much the same way as Sri Lanka were not when they started playing Tests, or Bangladesh 10 years ago,” their English coach Alan Butcher said on Saturday.
“The only place to learn to play Test cricket is by doing just that. There is no other place that can prepare you for it.
“So obviously, we will prepare as much as we can but I will be surprised if we can come out of it without some beatings in the initial stages.”
If that does not sound too optimistic, one will do well to remember that the first-class structure in Zimbabwe had to be rebuilt from scratch after a board dispute left it in shambles, leading to a player exodus and voluntary withdrawal from Tests in 2006.
“There is still no club cricket in Harare, which means there is nothing to bridge the gap between school cricket and first-class cricket. It is one area we have to work on,” Butcher said.
While re-learning the ropes in Tests, Zimbabwe may also have to scrap for a berth in the next edition of the World Cup, which is likely to be a 10-team affair. Ireland, the Associate nation that brought this World Cup alive by shocking England, may fancy their chances against Zimbabwe, the weakest of the 10 full members of the ICC.
“Well, we won a series against Ireland last year, though it was a close series that could have gone either way,” Butcher said. “(Making it to the World Cup) is going to be a challenge, but one that I hope we can enjoy meeting.”
With the likes of opener Brendan Taylor, wicketkeeper-batsman Tatenda Taibu, left-arm spinner Ray Price and leg-spinner Graeme Cremer forming the nucleus of the side, Zimbabwe are looking at the future with their chin up.