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Zimbabwe Cricket: A Shot in The Heart

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Zimbabwe Cricket has seen many lows in the past decade and a half, however, the tussle over pay between senior players and the board recently embarks the biggest crises since 2004 player revolt. The coffer of the board seems empty as numbers of fans are plummeting, an arrow appears to have shot in the heart of Zimbabwean Cricket, and it’s pertinent for Cricket community to save the game in the country. 

14-year-old Lusi Mwange and his friend had come to see Zimbabwe play Pakistan in third One day international against Pakistan hoping that their team will show some fight but barely within half an hour Zimbabwe were reduced to 32-5, all of them looked dejected and left the ground after an hour of disappointment. It has been the fate of Zimbabwean Cricket fans who have become habitual to their team’s abject performance, a win here and there give them a presumption that cricket administrators in the country have started to think about the common public and players. This is the hope that brings them to every game that Zimbabwe plays. The numbers though are declining fast. On the other hand, the board does not have enough money to pay to the players or even pay for hotel bills. Cricket has reached to its lowest ebb in the country known for its rich cricket past.

Zimbabwe cricket has a very proud history where cricket has been part of its life since its inception way back in 1895. The early years were sporadic appearances in the South African domestic system while the initial first-class match was played in 1905 against Transvaal. They participated in 1929-30, 1931-32 and then 1946-47. Zimbabwe’s premier local competition Logan Cup was organised in 1903-04 and was frequently organised from the late 50s.

Zimbabwe’s cricket system and its players benefited by playing in a strong South African domestic structure. In those years, Zimbabwe produced players like David Lewis, Colin Bland, Chris Duckworth and Paul Winslow. After getting Independence from Britain in 1980, Zimbabwe became an associate member of ICC in 1981, the famous win against Australia in 1983 World Cup was marked as the stepping stone for test status which they got in 1992.

After getting test status, Zimbabwe started taking strides. In their first test, they amassed a massive 456 and almost forced India to follow on, only to become the second country after Australia not to lose its inaugural test. In 1993’s Karachi test they came close to defeat Pakistan only to be denied by Waqar Younis’s brilliance. In the mid and late 1990s, Zimbabwe went through the golden period. They won tests again Pakistan (in 1995) against India (1998) at home and then an away test series against Pakistan (1998-99).

Zimbabwe also whitewashed England 3-0 at home in limited over series in 1996-97 and reached to the finals of tri-series in England. This was the pinnacle of Cricket in Zimbabwe. They had some of the best cricketers of all time, and some could find a place in any international team. Players like Andy Flower, Heath Streak, Murry Goodwin and Neil Jhonson were the face of Zimbabwean Cricket ably supported by Grant Flower, Alistair Campbell, Guy Whitall, Henry Olonga, Paul Strang and Andy Blignaut.

The late 90s saw a huge turmoil in Zimbabwe, as Robert Mugabe’s regime started to take over things in hand. They took the lands of white farmers and began distributing it among the local black population. It was said to be the reversal of decades of injustice. However, the reputation of the country and so as the economy took a severe beating. With an uncertain future, a huge chunk of white population started to migrate to other countries. It also affected Zimbabwean Cricket as players like Murry Goodwin and Neil Jhonson left Zimbabwe. Andy Flower and Henry Olonga followed after World Cup 2003. However, nothing was as bad as the player revolt of 2004. In March 2004. After seeing autocratic behaviour of Zimbabwean Cricket where a puppet of Mugabe controlled everything, players decided to revolt as the selection was being done on the racial lines.

On March 11, 2004, the day which laid the foundation of destruction of cricket in Zimbabwe, Heath Streak was called for a meeting by Ozvis Buvte, a person close to Robert Mugabe. He asked the team to be reselected and to include more black players. Heath Streak had always been the man of principle; he refused the suggestion of Buvte to select the team on racial lines. While Buvte was silent that day but when Streak demanded that unofficial quotas must be ended else he would resign, he was sacked as captain and 20-year-old Tatenda Taibu was appointed as captain.

April 16, 2004, was the day when Zimbabwe saw its last top quality team, 13 players went on to strike for sacking captain Heath Streak with two more joining later. It included players like Streak, Grant Flower, Blignaut, Travis Friend, Doug Marillier, Ray Price, Stuart Carlisle, Gary Brent, Barney Rogers, Craig Wishart, Trevor Gripper, Neil Ferreira and Sean Ervine, Charles Coventry and Gavin Ewing. However, the board didn’t have any effect on it and selected another team consisting of players with no international experience. The rebels faded away after months of the fight, and apart from few like Ray Price, Heath Streak, Gary Brent, Grant Flower none other could play again for Zimbabwe again. A whole generation of players was lost.

From March 2004- May 2018, Zimbabwe has struggled its way, political instability in the country meant that a lot of talented players left, but Zimbabwe continued to fight some time with a string of losses and sometimes surprising with wins. This year World Cup qualifier seemed to be golden opportunity to bring the cricket in the country back on track. However, a heartbreaking loss against the United Arab Emirates by 3 runs knocked them out of 2019 World Cup in England along with huge amount of financial support they would have got by qualifying for the mega event.

Things started to get back as the selectors were fired, so as the captain by the board. However, things turned ugly somewhat reminisce to March-April of 2004, though not as bad. This time senior players Brendon Taylor, Sean Ervine, Sean Williams, Graeme Creamer and Sikandar Raza refused to play because of their pending fees later Malcom Waller also was included in the list taking the total to 6. While the scenario is not as bad as 2004, things have already turned bad for Zimbabwe as they have lost all the nine matches.

Zimbabwe cricket has evaded from being suspended by ICC; however, it doesn’t hide that cricket in the country is in ICU and needs the support of big nations and ICC to ensure that Zimbabwe Cricket Board starts to treat the players and fan properly. This is high time that Cricket in Zimbabwe must be taken care of before it becomes too late and International cricket witness another cricket nation extinguish like Kenya Cricket.

List of some of the talent that Zimbabwe lost since 2000 due to the situation in country or board’s policies.

No. Name Last game Reason Age at last match
1 Andy Flower 2003 Political Instability 33
2 Stuart Carlisle 2005 Board’s policies 33
3 Bryan Strang 2001 Criticism of Board 29
4 Henry Olonga 2003 Political Instability 26
5 Craig Wishart 2005 Board’s policies 31
6 Murry Goodwin 2000 Personal reason and Political instability 27
7 Neil Jhonson 2000 Personal reason and Low pay offers 30
8 Andy Blignaut 2010 Board’s policies 31
9 Travis Friend 2004 Board’s policies 23
10 Douglas Marillier 2003 Board’s policies 25
11 Mark Vermeulen 2014 Disciplinary issues 35
12 Sean Ervine 2004 Board’s policies 24
13 Barney Rogers 2005 Board’s policies 22

It looks like six more players may join the list (Raza, Taylor, Craig Ervine, Waller, Creamer, Sean Williams) if things are not sorted out soon.

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