On occasions, Zimbabwe (or Rhodesia as earlier known) have turned the cricketing world upside down. In the 1983 World Cup, they beat a star-studded Australian side. Yes, an Australian side that had Lillee, Thomson, Yallop, Hookes, Wessels, Border and Marsh !

Zimbabwe themselves had some quality players on that occasion. They were captained by that brilliant strategist Duncan Fletcher, who later went onto coach England and India.

They also had Dave Houghton, one of the finest batters to come from that country. Then there was Andy Pycroft, who was the Match Referee in the World Cup final in Ahmedabad in November. Kevin Curran was there too. His son Sam Curran is now an England star.

The most notable of them was off-spinner John Traicos. He had debuted for South Africa in 1970 but after South Africa were exiled from cricket due to apartheid, he switched alliance and represented Zimbabwe. That’s not the fun part.

When South Africa were readmitted to Test cricket, he went back to play for them at the age of 45.

Between his first Test and last Test, there were seven US Presidents from Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton while the Catholic Church had three Popes; Cardinal Montini, Cardinal Luciani and Cardinal Wojtyla.

Zimbabwe created another upset too when in 1992 World Cup they beat England. That Zimbabwe side had Flower brothers and chicken farmer Eddo Brandes, who famously claimed four wickets.

Zimbabwe in that World Cup nearly beat Sri Lanka too. Those days teams rarely chased down targets above 300. Sri Lanka went onto become the first team to do so.

In recent years as well, Zimbabwe have produced some quality talents like Neil Johnson and Murray Goodwin.

However, the country suffered setbacks due to political upheavals and Robert Mugabe’s policies saw Zimbabwe being alienated by rest of the world and most white cricketing talents spread across other parts of the world.

Zimbabwe is a vast country unlike ours. It has a total area of 400,000 square kilometers. Their population is only 16 million whereas we have 22 million living in 65,000 square kilometers. The country is rich with natural resources but faced many setbacks during Mugabe’s era.

All fault of course is not Mugabe’s. When he wanted to reclaim the lands owned by white farmers, the British government of John Major had a deal to compensate white farmers. But once John Major’s Conservative Party was gone and Tony Blair’s Labour Party came in, the deal became null and void. And Mugabe was left with little choice. Like Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Mugabe was a freedom fighter but what he did in the latter years were quite despicable and unacceptable.

After economic instability, the country is recovering, and they aren’t doing too bad with the exchange rate being one US Dollar equal to 360 Zimbabwe Dollars.

Coming back to cricket, beating this Zimbabwe side is no big deal though. You keep hearing that this being a competitive opposition, but the truth of course is far from it. They have a very good left-arm seamer in Richard Ngarava while captain Sikandar Raza is a reliable all-rounder. Craig Ervine and Sean Williams are decent batters while the rest of them are making up the numbers.

Zimbabwe recently suffered home series defeats to Ireland and were even beaten by Namibia while being knocked out of this year’s T-20 World Cup after losing to Uganda. Sri Lanka should have cruised past this side but there were too many close games to their liking which sums up the standard of our cricket.

Barring the period between 2007 to 2011, our bowling has always lacked quality. Now the bowling not only lacks quality but among the top five batters hardly anyone bowls, which wasn’t the case earlier.

So, what the team did those days was to put a high premium on fielding. Now fielding has also collapsed and we are a laughing stock in white ball cricket. One good thing is that the new captain is stressing to put more emphasis on fielding. Upul Chandana has been handed the position of Fielding Coach on a temporary basis but it’s high time that he is made permanent in that position. He has been very loyal to SLC, and his innovative methods will help Sri Lanka to achieve desired results.

SLC must be commended for bringing in experts like Jonty Rhodes and Bharat Arun to lift our cricket standards. Rhodes obviously was the best fielder in our generation and players will learn quite a lot from him. However, unless individuals commit themselves, even if you bring Colin Bland from the dead we aren’t going to make improvements.

The upcoming series against Afghanistan will prove to be a different ball game altogether, particularly the white ball series. The Afghans are giving India a good run for their money at present and Sri Lanka will have to be at top of their game.

The Afghan series is followed by a tour of Bangladesh and that too will be quite challenging.

It’s a strange feeling. Sri Lanka toured Australia before the 1996 and 2007 World Cups and a lot of people say that those tours down under toughened the team up and helped them play their best cricket in the World Cup. Pity that we are saying a tour of Bangladesh will be tough these days. That’s how the cookie has crumbled.

-The Island