Former coach Butcher hoping Zimbabwe can prosper again in Test arena

Former coach Alan Butcher has said the return of Zimbabwe to Test cricket is “a step forward” for the country and that he will be up at the crack of dawn to track the side’s progress after the announcement of a three-year deal to feature the nation and their opponents, Afghanistan, on free-to-air TV in the UK.

But Butcher, who was in charge of Zimbabwe from March 2010 until February 2013, sounded a note of caution, saying that economic stability was vital to their ability to fulfil their potential on the world stage again.

Speaking to Guerilla Cricket on the eve of the first of their two-Test series away to Afghanistan, the former Surrey opener, who was widely credited with reviving the country during his time with the squad, said: “It’s great news that Zimbabwe will be playing Test cricket again. It’s so important for the current players, the supporters and the sport in general.

“Whether it represents a new dawn remains to be seen… I stand by what I’ve always said which is that Zimbabwe cricket can only really fulfil its potential when the country itself is stable economically.

“But returning to Test cricket is a step forward and I wish the team all the best and hope they give a good account of themselves.”

Zimbabwe last played in the five-day format in February last year, when they lost by an innings to Bangladesh in Dhaka. A planned second match in the series was cancelled because of the Covid pandemic.

Under Butcher, whose time with Zimbabwe was chronicled in his book The Good Murungu, published in 2016, the team won their first Test in six years, also against Bangladesh. However their high point remains the 1998 one-off Test against India, when they beat a team containing Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammed Azharuddin and Sourav Ganguly by 61 runs in Harare after setting their opponents 235 to win. Henry Olonga took five wickets in the India first innings.

The Tests in Abu Dhabi are the first time they have met Afghanistan in the format, although they have met in five bilateral ODI series, the most recent in February 2018, when Afghanistan won 4-1. All the matches were staged in Sharjah. Three of the other series went down to the wire, with Afghanistan winning 3-2, and one series was drawn 2-2.

Three T20 series also went the way of Afghanistan.

The Tests – and three T20s that follow it – will all be broadcast free to air in the UK on Free Sports. The company has signed a deal to cover all cricket involving the two nations for the next three years – a total of 33 fixtures.

During that time Zimbabwe will play three ODIs against India, separate one-Test series against Ireland and another two-Test series against Bangladesh.

Afghanistan’s televised fixtures will include three ODIs against Pakistan, a seven-match T20 triangular series also involving Australia and the West Indies and ODI series against Australia, the West Indies and New Zealand.

The action gets underway at 6am tomorrow for viewers in the UK and Butcher said: “I’ll definitely be watching.”