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Don’t burn the whole house

Darlington Majonga

WHEN Zimbabwe were last in the Caribbean in 2000, they found their hosts engulfed by a debilitating upheaval after Brian Lara had given up the West Indies captaincy following a dismal series in N

ew Zealand.

The chaos was aggravated by the disputed appointment of Roger Harper as coach that saw enraged fans attacking the offices of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB).

Zimbabwe had their own fair share of problems that time round.

The players were not happy with their remuneration, while the inclusion of Tatenda Taibu as cover for the injured Andy Flower had stirred angst in the camp ahead of the tour. 

There were some senior players too who were not happy with Dave Houghton as coach, while then Zimbabwe Cricket Union chief executive Dave Ellman-Brown was battling to end the friction between the cricketers and the administrators. 

However, the disquiet in the Zimbabwe camp was never considered serious to threaten their potential.

With Zimbabwe arriving with their star cast including Andy Flower, Murray Goodwin, Neil Johnson and Alistair Campbell — fresh from their heroics at the 1999 World Cup in England — the chaos in the Caribbean seemed to have completed a script for the tourists’ victory.

But victory was not to be for Zimbabwe — although they were competitive in losing both their Test and one-day international matches by 2-0 margins. Many might remember that’s when Zimbabwe were scandalously bowled out for 63 while chasing 99 to win the Test at Port-of-Spain.

Six years later, Zimbabwe arrive in the Caribbean for their seven-match one-day international series eager to overcome distressing politics back home — only to find West Indies battling a similar rash of problems the tourists have become familiar with.

The tour opener in Antigua tomorrow hung in the balance because the Caribbean islanders had virtually no one to name in the team until a couple of players agreed contracts on Tuesday — four days before the match.

The protracted dispute — stretching about 18 months — over retainer fees that West Indies players have been enmeshed in with the WICB is not dissimilar to the wrangle between Zimbabwe’s cricketers and their own board.

Zimbabwe’s players only accepted the performance-based contracts their board had been offering them since last September in February.

Though the West Indies dispute has raged on for longer, the Calypso Kings have emerged from the crisis no worse than Zimbabwe did.

Lara — the leading scorer in Test history —has been appointed captain for the third time after Shivnarine Chanderpaul threw in the towel early this month, while the dozen other players West Indies have named for the series cannot be pushovers for Zimbabwe even on a bad day.

The likes of Daren Ganga and Wavell Hinds — who were both favourites to land the captaincy — are also likely to bounce back into the team after they were left out of the squad announced. 

On the other side Zimbabwe have lost entirely all their experienced players due to their own dispute, with new captain Terrence Duffin set to play only his fifth one-day international tomorrow. 

So any win for the tourists will be a shock result if not anything — Zimbabwe’s two morale-boosting warm-up wins as well as the strife militating against the Calypso Kings notwithstanding.

In effect, the seven-match series in the Caribbean remains a serious test of character for Zimbabwe who will be under pressure to prove they will be ready to return to Test cricket in February 2007 after giving up their status following the player dispute.

The International Cricket Council will be closely watching the matches pitting the Test world’s worst performers besides fast-improving Bangladesh.

Zimbabwe will have to hold their nerves and pick a thing or two from their talented and experienced opponents — who include Lara, Chanderpaul, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Chris Gayle.

But away from the field, there are more indispensable morals that the Zimbabwe cricket fraternity might want to grasp.

While the dispute over retainer fees and personal sponsorship deals had dragged on for 18 months, West Indies have somehow managed to retain most of their key players — especially Lara, the team’s cornerstone who has often been a shining beacon even in defeat.

Since 2000, Zimbabwe cricket authorities have failed to stem the exodus of players to overseas countries for various reasons. It’s unfortunate also that most players have not found it difficult to quit Zimbabwe.

Ellman-Brown will argue that the union could not convince Johnson and Goodwin, who both left in 2000, to stay for far less than they were being offered in South Africa and Australia respectively.

Vince Hogg will tell us they could not guarantee Andy Flower and Henry Olonga their safety after the duo staged a black armband protest to “mourn the death of democracy” in the country on February 10 2003 during Zimbabwe’s World Cup tie against Namibia in Harare.

Former Zimbabwe skipper Alistair Campbell and key all-rounder Guy Whittall have their own reasons for suddenly leaving even though the country could have done with their service for a few more years.

Probably Zimbabwe Cricket chairman Peter Chingoka will argue his board could not give in to an ultimatum by a player when then captain Heath Streak questioned the composition of the selection panel on April 2 2004.

We have been told the 13 players who turned their backs on national duty 13 days later wanted Macsood Ebrahim removed as convenor of selectors on top of Streak being retained as captain.

But no one will accept responsibility for the humiliating loss when a makeshift Zimbabwe side were bowled out for a world-record low of 35 by Sri Lanka in a one-dayer on April 25 2004.

Zimbabwe Cricket managing director Ozias Bvute will probably say the union was acting in the best interests of the game when the board last September decided that players be paid according to how they performed. 

And the players who withheld their labour will argue they wanted remuneration in foreign exchange, considering the runaway inflation that has torn apart Zimbabwe’s economy.

It’s a lot that has happened and all kinds of reasons have been proffered as to why Zimbabwe have muddled in this mess over the past six years.

The result, inevitably, is regrettable. Zimbabwe have had to give up their Test status for the second time in as many years because they are too weak to play the longer version of the game.

We are afraid dwelling on the myriad of problems Zimbabwe have faced might be retrogressive if we don’t look at the way forward.

For now, it’s our hope that Zimbabwe rehabilitate quickly and resume Test cricket next year.

While it is crucial that there be continuity in the team, it is our hope that experienced and promising players who have left the game will one day soon return for national duty.

More importantly, domestic cricket ought to be totally revamped and therein lies another cumbersome challenge.
Right now it’s hard for anyone to convince us why a splinter national league is necessary if it’s not all about inflated egos on either side of the dispute.

It’s sad most stakeholders in the game seem to have been driven by personal interests at the expense of the sport.

Everyone believes they are right, and compromise has been strange in the whole Zimbabwe crisis.

We have a situation whereby disgruntled stakeholders rub their hands with glee watching Zimbabwe cricket in agony simply because Chingoka is still in charge. Is it not akin to a scenario whereby we would rather celebrate our misery simply because it exposes to the world President Robert Mugabe’s failure as a leader? No, we should not burn the whole hut simply to get rid of Chingoka.

So while we seek to redress the administrative politics, it’s important not to lose the bigger picture — the future of the game.

We hope we have seen the last of parents and supporters cheering the flight of players to overseas countries while others urge their children not to take up contracts with Zimbabwe Cricket.

It would be nice that the next time we write it will be about Chingoka, Bvute, Ellman-Brown, Macsood Ebrahim, Ray Gripper, Cyprian Mandenge, Charlie Robertson, Ahmed Essat, Tim Savory, Givemore Makoni, Ethan Dube, Steve Mangongo, Andy Pycroft, Tawengwa Mukuhlani and Clive Field discussing the way forward for Zimbabwe cricket over a drink.

Why not? Show us all you are interested in is the game’s wellbeing — now and in the future.

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