Today, in Harare, Zimbabwe beat Pakistan by 24 runs. It was their first victory in a Test match that wasn’t against Bangladesh since June of 2001 when they beat India by four wickets. It was also only their 11th Test victory against any opposition since gaining Test Status in 1992.
94 matches, 11 wins.
To put that into perspective England have played 940 Test matches and won 336.
Ten times the number of Tests played and 30 times the number of Test victories.
And Zimbabwe and England are both part of the exclusive global club that is Test playing nations – and so therefore are, for all intents and purposes, in the same league. Which is kind of ridiculous when you think about it.
But is it really? I mean every team needs to start somewhere. Should Zimbabwe be “relegated” back to Associate status?
Their population is 12 million, which is more than New Zealand’s and Ireland’s combined, and only 10 million less than Australia’s. Meanwhile, fellow minnows Bangladesh have a population of over 150 million.
Population therefore cannot be a factor used in relegation. But what about GDP? Using the IMF’s formula Zimbabwe ranks 132 out of 184 – sandwiched between the economic powerhouses of Armenia* and Macedonia. The next closest Test nation is Sri Lanka at number 69. So maybe we are getting somewhere.
But then Bangladesh comes in and screws everything up: they are at number 59 – ahead of Sri Lanka in GDP but miles behind them on the cricket pitch.
Then again: The United Kingdom (I could not find just England numbers) has a GDP of 2.435 trillion USD, while Zimbabwe’s GDP is currently 10.81 billion USD.
The UK’s GDP is therefore 225 times great than Zimbabwe.
I had to double check that number.
To put that into some sort of perspective for my American readers, including myself: The GDP of the New York City metro area is a staggering 1.2 trillion dollars – 110 times greater than Zimbabwe’s. While even the GDP of lowly Cincinnati is 100 billion – ten times greater.
And using GDP, the UK is to Zimbabwe what New York City is to American cities with a GDP of around 5 billion. Cities like Abilene, TX or Farmington, NM or La Crosse, WI.
Could you imagine any of those cities fielding a Major League baseball team against the likes of the Yankees or the Mets and being anywhere near competitive?
Yeah, me neither. But somehow we are all okay with pitting Zimbabwe against England on the cricket field.
Based on the above economic data, should we disqualify Zimbabwe from Test status? Or should we give them more time to play the game and find their footing?
They are not the first newly promoted Test team to struggle in their early years.
Pakistan only won 10 of their first 50 Tests. Sri Lanka only four. Based on that latter stat, Zimbabwe’s 11 out of 94 doesn’t look all that terrible.
Of course, once you drill down on that number, you see that Sri Lanka didn’t have Bangladesh to push around. And Sri Lanka has only had Test status for ten years longer than Zimbabwe – and yet they have played more than twice the number of Tests (222) and won an impressive 66 of them.
Which brings us to the crux of this matter: Zimbabwe has had Test status since 1992, but between September of 2005 and September of 2011, they did not play a single match in the longest format. And so while last year was the 20th anniversary of their elevation to Test status, it was really only like their 14 anniversary. Which make today’s win against Pakistan even more impressive.
In the end, despite their relatively poor performances, and despite their economic distress, having Zimbabwe playing Tests is good for the game, because it can provide scenes like we saw this morning in Harare…
That’s not cold and calculating England ruthlessly dismantling Australia, that’s a group of young, spirited cricketers celebrating the biggest victory of their lives – a victory over a side that just two and half years ago white washed England 3-0 in the UAE.
Upsets are what make sports fun. And you cannot have upsets without teams like Zimbabwe.
But then again: upsets just do not happen in Test cricket. True giant killings in the five day game are incredibly rare. So maybe what we saw in Zimbabwe this morning was not an upset, but a team coming into their own. The ICC gave them time, and now they are, slowly but surely, getting to the point where teams like Pakistan have to take them seriously.
In the end, upset or not, today was a good day for Test cricket.
Congrats to Zimbabwe, I’m looking forward to seeing you among the Test nations for decades to come.
*I am not going to talk about the fact that the Armenian national football team just beat the Czech Republic (#51 in GDP ranking) 2-1 in a World Cup qualifier.