IS it mere coincidence that playing standards in cricket and rugby have been on a steady plunge in Zimbabwe since ties with South Africa were broken, while Zimbabwe’s national football team, fortified as it is by professionals playing in
the South African premier league, seems to be on a steady rise in recent years?
Perhaps not, if you take into account the fact that Zimbabwean cricket and rugby were at their strongest in the years gone by, even with the small numbers that played the two sports in this country in the period before and soon after Independence.
In the period leading to Independence, both the cricket and rugby sides played in the Currie Cup competitions in South Africa. The Zimbabwe sides which took part in these tournaments were formidable and gave as much competition as they received from the South African provinces.
South Africa being the world-class and sports-mad country they are, the Zimbabweans could then accurately gauge their strength and playing against some of the best in the world.
The profit of stronger ties with South Africa comes in the professionalism and commercial part of it, where players are attractively rewarded financially, as in the case with the South Africa-based footballers.
But in the case of cricket and rugby the ties after Independence have not just been based on Zimbabwean players signing professional contracts or receiving scholarships in South Africa. Zimbabwe have participated in domestic competitions there as a “province” of South Africa, most notably rugby’s Craven Week for schools select teams, and the annual junior cricket tournaments.
While these frequent tours to South Africa at junior level have noticeably benefited Zimbabwe, the country now needs to be readmitted at a more senior level like in the past, in order to harvest immediate success with the national teams. Therein, playing constantly in South Africa or with South African sides gives players incentive to continue staying in Zimbabwe, added the commercial aspect and wider media exposure that comes with it.
But now the problem is that the South Africans may not be too keen to engage the Zimbabweans as they stand to gain little from their northern neighbours, and the South Africans want to have more of their own sides in their domestic competitions.
Cricket has suffered from the severed ties; the Zimbabwe Board XI was cut off from its lifeblood, the South African Bowls competition, which ensured that players had good groundwork for international cricket. The Warriors are benefiting from that firmer foundation, and other disciplines could certainly be better off following suit. – Staff Writer.