WEST Indies, who are touring Zimbabwe for two Test matches in Bulawayo starting this Saturday, may as well send back home their entire squad and replace it with their players competing in the ongoing International League T20 in Dubai.
At least 15 West Indians are involved in the UAE tournament and, although nearly all of them are considered white-ball specialists, the bulk of them never having pulled over the whites in their careers, it does say a lot for the depth of skills and player pool in the islands.
But, certainly, somebody like the veteran Abu Dhabi Knight Riders pace bowler Ravi Rampaul would have backed himself – with all the experienced gained from 18 Tests for Windies – to extract something from the flat and slow wicket of Queens Sports Club.
Perhaps, too, the exciting left-arm spinner and Rampaul’s teammate in Dubai, Akeal Hosein, who has not been capped in Tests by West Indies and probably won’t be in the near future. Bulawayo would have provided the perfect conditions for the young Trinidadian to test his skills in the fuller format.
So a whole West Indies team is out playing franchise cricket in Dubai, and still having their men in white confident of victory in the two Tests in Zimbabwe.
And Zimbabwe, without the luxury of choosing players specifically for different formats, are sweating over the absence of two players from the West Indies series – lost to the glitz, glamour and monies of T20 franchise cricket abroad.
And these are not just two players, but two key men in the form of their lives at the moment, Sikandar Raza and Ryan Burl.
Both did not play the last time Zimbabwe played Tests 18 months ago, in a 220-run defeat by Bangladesh at home in Harare.
Two star batsmen who take crucial wickets with their spin-bowling, Raza and Burl’s scintillating performances in international white-ball cricket for Zimbabwe have earned them gigs in the Dubai tournament and in the Bangladesh Premier League, with their national board granting them permission to miss the Test series.
It is fair to say that both have not played a lot of Test cricket and their ability in that format has not yet been tested. But so is everyone in the current squad set to face the Windies because the country does not get enough fixtures in this version.
So without notable specialist players in Zimbabwe, and factoring in Raza and Burl’s good form, forget that it is white-ball, their absenteeism from the West Indies clash should be considered a big blow for the host side.
It is a real cause for worry because Raza and Burl will not be the first and last Zimbabwe players to hit a purple patch and go the franchise way. The board, in some kind of catch-22 situation, is not able to block players from earning some extra cash.
The more worrying aspect of the situation is that the warm-up match between a Zimbabwe XI against the West Indies this week did not suggest the right talent and depth in the fringes for guys to effortlessly slot in during the absence of key players, some of them on the wrong side of 30.
Good luck, Chevrons, with the Windies contest, and thanks for the great entrainment over the past six months.
Long may it live, but there is so much more to do to this end.