By Peter Lovemore
HISTORY will record that in the southern African autumn of 2004 a group of spring chickens were propelled by their commanders to the very front lines of sporting warfar
e against two seasoned and battle-hardened invading armies.
Furthermore, it will also record that, despite individual acts of bravery on the part of a few members of the flock, acts which occasionally lifted the hearts and buoyed the spirits of their supporters looking on from the safety of the sidelines, they were simply no match for either General Attapatu or Brigadier Ponting and their well-drilled troops!
In fact, aside from being thoroughly roasted, they were more often than not hopelessly outflanked and outmanoeuvred and at no stage during any of the engagements did they even remotely threaten their opponents.
Admittedly, they did not surrender, although that may have had more to do with the actual rules of engagement than anything else. There is no provision in cricket for the waving of a white flag when it has become all too clear that defeat looms!
Now, with the tactical retreat of the victorious invaders to their respective homelands and a temporary lull in battlefield hostilities, the commanders have been summoned to international headquarters in London on June 27, there to try and plot the way forward for cricket in Zimbabwe in the wake of mass desertions by a large number of their troops in early April following allegations by the rebellious group of racism and other sorts of malpractice by the boardroom commanders and their surrogates in the Zimbabwe Cricket Union.
The “rebels” have joined the growing international diaspora of competent Zimbabweans in search of greener pastures elsewhere and the feeling is that few, if any, of them are ever coming home again, let alone to place their skills at the disposal of a union that has, they feel, treated them in so cavalier a manner.
So, to farmers, bankers, teachers, doctors, artisans and nurses we must now add a new category of unwilling emigres – cricket players! Surely a first in the history of man’s stupidity!
Following a meeting in Dubai on June 10, the first step in isolating Zimbabwe from its hard-won position among the world’s elite group of 10 Test-playing nations has been taken. Zimbabwe will play no further Test matches in 2004.
The communiqué emanating from this latest meeting referred tactfully to the fact that the ZCU president, Peter Chingoka, and his officials had “agreed” to their team taking no further part in Test matches for the remainder of this year. This was purely for public consumption.
The Zimbabweans were given no choice in the matter and the message from the ICC was loud and clear. Clean up your act at home, gentlemen, field your best side and only then will you be welcomed back into the fold.
Ironically, just as this meeting was in progress, sacked Zimbabwean captain Heath Streak was busy demolishing the opposition on his county cricket debut for Warwickshire, taking seven wickets for 84 runs.
The timing was exquisite and must have pained his detractors in Harare, specifically the board of the ZCU.
Ah, but what of these new kids on the block? Can the day be envisaged when the cocky little Tatenda Taibu leads his young side to victory in the five day game against, say, England or New Zealand? Then again, does the numerically weakened pool of cricketing troops have sufficient resources to back its front-line players in the event of injury or loss of form taking their inevitable toll?
The answer to these and other such questions of concern about the future of the game must be, on all the available evidence so far, a resounding negative.
The verdict is already out on this young Zimbabwean team after just two home tests against Sri Lanka in which their shortcomings were horribly exposed.
Sports writers in both the state and independent press tried valiantly to boost public impressions of the team’s efforts against Sri Lanka and Australia by referring, for example, to their youthful zest in the field and by harping on the rare occasions on which one or other member of the squad defied the odds to register a decent score at the crease, take an exceptional catch or actually dismiss a bored Aussie batsman or a tired Sri Lankan double centurion.
In so doing they merely exposed their own ignorance of cricket and the longer term demands made by the game on those who participate in it.
Small wonder that some people still believe that Taibu’s squad can stay the course.
The rights or wrongs of the actions taken by Streak and his rebels hardly seem important any longer, although the subsequent antics of men like Osias Bvute would seem to confirm their worst fears about the hands into which cricket in this country has fallen. In fairness to Bvute, he is not alone amongst the ZCU’s heirarchy in offending the minimum standards of conduct expected of cricket administrations the world over, although his intemperate behaviour has become the stuff of notoriety in every corner of the cricket world thanks to the efficiency of valuable internet websites such as Cricinfo.
Incredibly, this Johnny-come-lately in the world of cricket, a sport that has centuries of tradition behind it, continues happily, and without any visible sign of the censure he so richly deserves, to play a role in the affairs of the game, whilst true patriots and performers like Heath Streak have been completely ostracised. George Orwell, were he still living, would have had a field day with this little tale of human folly.
Stories abound of the plans made by individual members of the rebel group as they attempt to further careers so rudely interrupted. However, their collective point having been so strongly emphasised by the walk-out, some will, and should, return to the fold in the new season ahead because, as they would be the first to acknowledge, the game is far bigger than the indivdual.
If men like Bvute do not, or refuse to, understand that universal dictum, so be it.
Aside from the invaluable Streak, it would gladden the hearts of true cricket lovers to witness the return of the talented young left-handed opening batsman, Barney Rogers.
Stuart Carlisle, probably the principal victim of the ZCU’s race-obsessed pig-headedness in recent years, is another vital player whose return would do much to restore sanity to the tattered upper order of the new-look side.
Raymond Price’s spin, as was so demonstrably proved by its absence during the recent tours, is an irreplaceable asset. And then there’s the greatest loss of all – Sean Irvine. Irvine had the ability to become Andy Flower’s replacement. Trevor Gripper, too, has a future role to play with both bat and ball.
The return of these six players is a bare minimum requirement for Zimbabwe’s continued participation on at least a reasonably competitive level in the international arena.
It is entirely up to Peter Chingoka and his board to ensure that this happens, since it is they, and they alone, who are responsible for the messy circumstances that currently prevail in what was almost the last financially viable and successful sport in post-Independent Zimbabwe.