Since Zimbabwe became the ninth Test playing nation less than eight years ago it could be claimed that England has done less than any other country to help develop their game. Even before such status was achieved the culling of the fledgling Graeme Hick had irreparably damaged their prospects, though this of itself is a more complex issue. Kevin Curran and Trevor Penney are two other examples of players who would arguably have stiffened the commendably stout challenges which the Zimbabweans have presented.
Now that England has a Zimbabwean coach there is a fine irony in his first match at home in charge being against his country of origin. After the ignominy of their capitulation to a far from useless New Zealand outfit last summer England may well see these two Tests as a potential banana skin rather than a fine opportunity to oil their machine before the arrival of the West Indians. With the current away form of the Caribbeans, nothing short of a convincing victory should satisfy the English public, and perhaps more importantly, their management.
Graeme Hick: "culled by England".
To those of us observing the matches from this side of the Irish Sea there are a number of subtler issues to watch out for. Any concern that the loss of cricket coverage by the dependable BBC might have left us short on viewing were soon put to rest by the top class performance of Channel 4. To be realistic once they had Richie Benaud on board our fears were minimal.
We must be better able to admire the sterling efforts of the tourists to bridge the gap between club and international cricket than the Poms. There are many similarities between the Zimbabwean and Irish player bases, though as I write, the return of the cold monsoon after such an unexpectedly good start to the season weather wise, reminds us that theirs is an altogether better climate in which to learn and develop one's game.
Above all we will sympathise, and admire the efforts of the players to concentrate on the cricketing job in hand against a back-drop of political unrest at home. Many in Irish cricket have been luckier than I, and have sampled Zimbabwean hospitality and their beautiful grounds. Despite our troubles cricket has been relatively unscathed here; the loss of the original Cliftonville ground; the folding of the City of Derry club (for whom the young John Hume played more than a few years back) would be a couple of well documented events. The fires at NICC and, more recently and spectacularly, Downpatrick may well have been less than accidents. But the thought that as you play for the honour of your country (the Zimbabweans are not highly paid professionals on fat international contracts such as their opponents will enjoy) you, some of your colleagues, or your respective families might be, at a whim, (and possibly with significant violence), put off your land would be more than a distraction.
In their last Test series the Zimbabweans got themselves into some good positions against the Windies but ultimately went under. We can be sure that they will give of their very best against England and any success that they achieve should be an inspiration to all cricketing underdogs. As Irish cricket adjusts to a new National Coach, and he to us, and seeks to recover from the Shropshire mishap, let us hope that there will be lessons for us all to take on board, not least that there is no short fix but that application and determination are qualities to be sought in abundance.