In common with all the other full members of the I.C.C., Zimbabwe had a cricket team before it achieved Test status.
A brief summary of key moments:
Zimbabwe's early Test performances were consistently weak, leading to many suggestions that they were undeserving of that status. In the one-day arena, however, the team soon became competitive, if not particularly strong. In particular, world respect was gained for their fielding ability.
In spite of his team's difficulties, wicket-keeper/batsman Andy Flower was at one point rated the best batsman in world cricket. During this era, Zimbabwe also produced such cricketers as Flower's brother Grant, allrounder (and later national captain) Heath Streak and professional chicken farmer Eddo Brandes, who achieved considerable fame as a bowler. Murray Goodwin was also a world-class batsman; following his retirement from international cricket, he has scored heavily for Sussex. Sometime captain and middle order batsman Alistair Campbell, leg-spinning all rounder Paul Strang, and pace bowler/opener Neil Johnson were other important contributors for Zimbabwe on the world stage at this time.
With the appearance of some quality players, a breakthrough was achieved in levels of performance in the late 1990s where the Zimbabwean team began winning tests against other nations, which included a series win against Pakistan. Unfortunately, the political situation in Zimbabwe declined at around the same time, which had a detrimental effect on the national team's performances.
Increasing politicization of cricket, including selectorial policy, along with the declining situation in Zimbabwe disrupted the 2003 Cricket World Cup, which was jointly hosted by Zimbabwe and South Africa.
England forfeited a match scheduled to be played in Zimbabwe, risking their own progress through the competition, citing "security concerns" as their reason.
Zimbabwean players Andy Flower and fast bowler Henry Olonga wore black armbands, for "mourning the death of democracy" in Zimbabwe. Both were immediately dismissed from the team and applied for political asylum overseas. This public political protest caused considerable embarrassment to the co-hosts and disrupted team harmony.
Since the 2003 World Cup, with a succession of Zimbabwe's best players ending their international careers early, a new side began to develop, featuring the likes of Travis Friend, Andy Blignaut, Craig Wishart, Ray Price, Sean Ervine, Mark Vermeulen, Douglas Marillier, and Barney Rogers. Whilst not of the same calibre of Streak, Goodwin, and the Flower brothers, this new breed of predominatly multi-disciplined players formed a solid backbone to a competitive, if usually unsuccessful, side.
In late 2003, Zimbabwe toured Australia in a two-match series. The series was more memorable for Australian opener Matthew Hayden's innings in the first Test - in which he overcame a back strain to score a then record 380 runs - than for the Zimbabwean performance.
Because of this, the ZCU accepted that Zimbabwe were to play no further Test cricket in 2004, though its status as a Test nation was unaffected.
In early 2005, Heath Streak was reinstated into the national side, but the political situation in Zimbabwe involving Operation Murambatsvina disrupted the Zimbabwean team. During overseas tours, the players were often said to be buying necessities which were unavailable - or prohibitively expensive - at home, as opposed to the souvenirs which other touring teams would purchase.
In 2005 an agreement was signed which led to the return of many of the rebels to the Zimbabwe side. However, results failed to improve as in March Zimbabwe lost both their Tests on tour against South Africa by an innings. Worse was to follow in August, when they were crushed on home soil by New Zealand, in a match that was completed in just two days, instead of the usual five. In the process, Zimbabwe were humiliated; they became only the second side in Test history (after India in 1952) to be bowled out twice in the space of one day. Then they lost both their tests to India at home later in September. After the series against India, Streak announced his retirement from international cricket, dealing yet another blow to the beleaguered team.
By November 2005, the players were once again in dispute with Zimbabwe Cricket over political interference in the management of the game as well as contract negotiations, and the new captain, Tatenda Taibu, resigned from international cricket.
By January 2006, 37 Zimbabwean cricketers had failed to receive any offer of renegotiation talks from Zimbabwe Cricket after their contracts with the board had expired. This body of players demanded that the chairman and managing director of Zimbabwe cricket, Peter Chingoka and Ozias Bvute, be removed from office for there to be any hope for the players to return to the international stage.
On January 6 2006, the Sports and Recreation Commission, a division of the Zimbabwean government, took over the offices of Zimbabwe Cricket. The apparent takeover has resulted in the firing of all whites and Asians among the board directors, because of "their racial connotations and saving their own agendas and not government policy" according to Gibson Mashingaidze, an army brigadier and chairman of the government's Sports and Recreation Commission.
An interim board was appointed as the new leading party of cricket in Zimbabwe, with Peter Chingoka appointed as the committee's head. Given Chingoka's close ties to Bvute, it is likely that the latter will continue in his post as well.
Domestically, the Logan Cup - Zimbabwe's first class competition played amongst the provinces - was cancelled in 2006 for the first time since its inception over a century ago (though the Cup was not played during some of the years of the World Wars). This was widely seen as due to concern by ZC that the standard of play would be so poor as to be both not worthwhile and potentially harmful to the external image of cricket in Zimbabwe. The one-day trophy, the Faithwear Cup, was contested, and drew complaints from observers that the quality was less than club level. As well as player exodus, the main reason for this catastrophic fall in standards was put down to wrangling within Zimbabwe Cricket, where internal politics motivated the removal of the historic provinces and their replacement with revamped, newly-designated provincial teams.
In a further harmful incident, ex-player Mark Vermeulen was arrested after attempting to burn down ZC's offices, and successfully destroying the Zimbabwe Cricket Academy's premises. In a nation in increasing social and economic turmoil, such facilities are hard to replace, and their loss has proven difficult to manage for a cricket administration already short of top quality facilities.
The ICC has not supported Zimbabwe's return to full Test status until the national team can perform consistently at that level and compete competitively against other test sides.
One player told his team-mates that there were certain things contained in the contracts that needed clarification. He was summoned back into Bvute's office and warned that it was a take-it-or-leave -it offer: this player was later revealed to be Anthony Ireland. Another said that when he told Bvute he wanted to consult with friends, Bvute picked up the phone and called Kenyon Ziehl, the head of selection, and told him he wanted the player replaced in the squad. Unsurprisingly, the player backed down and signed.
In light of the poor state of Zimbabwe's finances, and that Zimbabwe Cricket had to borrow around US$1 million in early 2007 pending receipt of monies from the World Cup to help them over an ongoing cash crisis; the board agreed to pay match fee's in US Dollars. The players are being paid US$2000 per appearance and a series of US$500 bonuses based on wickets taken and fifties scored. The maximum payment was believed to be capped at around US$8000. However, fee's will not be paid until June 2007 to stop the exodus and help cash flow
The spectre of continued problems with the ZC board has influenced some players to cut their losses and seek to finish their careers abroad: Ireland accepted a contract to play for Gloucestershire during 2007, while opener Vusi Sibanda also left. More are thought to be considering following suit.
In between those games, they played a five match One Day International series against the West Indies, scoring an upset win in the opening match before losing the series 3-1. The final match was abandoned due to rain.
On the bright side, however, with most of the squad now aged about 20-23 years there is a good chance that by the 2011 Cricket World Cup, the team will be of reasonable strength, providing that they continue to have exposure at international level and there are no further player retirements. The batting of Sean Williams and off-spin of captain Prosper Utseya have stood up well to international-class scrutiny, while Brendan Taylor has shown promise as a reliable wicketkeeper-batsman. Terry Duffin and Hamilton Masakadza are two young players who have demonstrated their fine potential at different stages, whilst quick bowler Ed Rainsford is developing into a serious new ball threat. Whilst Zimbabwean resources are not as great as their international rivals', this group of players represents a starting point from which a revival can be staged.
The national team's eventual re-introduction to Test matches will give some clue as to the strength of Zimbabwe cricket in relation to the rest of the world. Most commentators predict that results, at least initially, will be poor at best, so more emphasis will be placed on individual performances, team-building, fielding, and squad cohesion than on winning matches. Realistically, it will take a long time for Zimbabwe cricket to recover from its current state to a level of respectable competitiveness, last achieved during the late 1990s/early 2000s.