The future looks bright for Zimbabwe
What has Zimbabwe gained from their Test sabbatical following the disputes of six years ago?
Zimbabwe’s historic win over Bangladesh in their first Test match in six years was a rare dose of good news for the small African nation with great sporting potential.
Zimbabwe were playing their first Test after voluntarily withdrawing from the five-day format in 2005, a decision forced by the sacking of several senior players following an acrimonious dispute with the board, coupled with the country’s lengthy political and economic crisis, which left the team heavily weakened.
The question being asked by those not too familiar with the goings-on is what has led to this mini-revival in the game here? There are several factors, both on the field and off it.
The changing political climate in the country has played a role that cannot be underestimated. Look no further than Zimbabwe’s three-year-old power-sharing inclusive government, which though shaky, has brought a degree of stability. Cricket enjoyed an extra advantage because David Coltart, who has a keen interest in cricket, was appointed the sports minister.
Coltart was able to convince Australia, New Zealand and Ireland to re-establish cricket ties with Zimbabwe following boycotts on political grounds. As a result, Ireland agreed to send their team for four One-Day Internationals last year and New Zealand are due here in September following a visit from Pakistan.
Another critical question is, what has Zimbabwe gained from their Test sabbatical following the disputes of six years ago?
To prepare for their return, Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC), led by chairman Peter Chingoka and managing director Ozias Bvute, embarked on an exercise to revamp their domestic structure and expose players to as much four-day cricket as possible.
A franchise system created five teams, where leading players blended with the most promising youngsters. Former internationals like Andrew Hall, Jason Gillespie and Allan Donald were hired as coaches. Competition was lopsided at first, but as player movement between the teams became free and strength got pitted against strength, some good contests were recorded.
The franchises were also able to bring in overseas pros as well. The likes of Riki Wessels, Nick Compton, Chad Keegan, Paul Horton, Jonathan Beukes and Greg Smith spent full seasons playing in Zimbabwe.
More importantly the ZC lured former players and administrators who had left en masse during the impasse. Former captain Alistair Campbell is now involved as the convener of selectors and chairman of the cricket committee. Grant Flower and Heath Streak are batting and bowling coach respectively.
But do all these developments point to one big happy family in ZC?
If you scratch the surface, the answer is no.
Before the Bangladesh Test, Taibu pretty much summed it up when he launched a surprise attack on the board, accusing it of ‘painting a house that’s about to fall’, claiming players had not been paid match fees and allowances since last August.
ZC has been guilty to an extent of a perception management exercise that has come at a cost. Gillespie, Donald and Hall have not come cheaply. Players have benefited from them, but it has hit the board hard on the pocket.
The non-existence of a players’ representative body has also created a gulf between the players and officials.
All said and done, if there is no further disturbance in Zimbabwe cricket like what happened six years ago, the future looks very bright. A new sense of trust between players and administrators is a key to that.