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Test cricket’s depth a concern after Zimbabwe flattened by South Africa in day-night Test

Test cricket is set to have greater context when the world championship is introduced from 2019, but the depth of talent outside the major nations remains a concern.

That Zimbabwe was beaten by an innings and 120 runs inside two days of what was to have been an historic four-day, day-night Test in Port Elizabeth, has highlighted how weak the standard of competition could be when recent Test inclusions Ireland and Afghanistan join the African nation in a new format.

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So bad was Zimbabwe that coach Heath Streak, the former fast bowler, suggested his nation might need to stop playing the sport’s traditional format and focus more on the short forms.

“Everyone has spoken about the lack of Test cricket that we play, and it has an impact on the calibre of Test cricket we can play, and maybe there is an argument for us throwing more of our resources into short-format cricket,” Streak said.

“If we are going to play Test cricket, we need to play more than three or four [matches] a year.”

So dominant were the Proteas that the match lasted 907 balls, meaning it was the third-shortest Test since World War II, excluding the contrived Centurion Test of 2000.

Australia was slated to play a Test series in Zimbabwe midway through 2018, but that’s now likely to be a short Twenty20 campaign. Australia have not played a Test against their African counterpart since 2003-04, highlighting the lack of financial incentive to play a nation that has undergone more political upheaval this year. Hosting matches is also financially problematic for Zimbabwe Cricket.

Zimbabwe would appear to have little hope of playing more Tests, having managed just eight over the past two years, with six of these at home.

Under the plan released for the new world Test championship, the nine-team competition, including the limping West Indies who drew a Test with Zimbabwe this year, will be staged over two years from 2019, with a final at Lord’s in 2021.

Ireland, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan will be a tier below and essentially play among themselves, most likely in four-day Tests, but there is scope to have one-off Tests against the top nations. However, the standard of these matches will be an issue if Zimbabwe’s performance against the Proteas, admittedly having faced a pink ball for the first time, is any guide.

“We all want to play against the best, but you’ve got to earn the right,” Streak said. “With teams like Afghanistan and Ireland, maybe that’s our opportunity to play a lot more cricket. And once you are playing that, you earn your way to playing top-tier nations.

“But even then, maybe we play them at home and we can set conditions up to favour us, because it’s really tough to play away against top-tier teams in their conditions.”

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