REBEL cricketers Grant Flower and Ray Price have slammed the door shut on a return to Zimbabwe duty after signing long-term deals to play county cricket in England thi
The move could render attempts to resolve the impasse between the Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) and 15 dismissed players a sheer a waste of time.
“Efforts to bring back the so-called rebels to the national team could be really a waste of time if the cream of the fired players continue getting contracts overseas,” an insider at the ZCU told IndependentSport.
But re-elected ZCU chairman Peter Chingoka remains optimistic the dispute with the rebels will be resolved amicably and see some of them return to national duty.
Essex plucked Flower (33), a veteran of 67 Tests and 219 one-day internationals, from the cold for a two-year contract that begins in 2005 after he announced his retirement from international cricket recently.
At Essex he joins his elder brother Andy, who retired into exile after his black-armband protest to “mourn the death of democracy in Zimbabwe” alongside paceman Henry Olonga during last year’s cricket World Cup.
Price, like Grant Flower, joined Worcestershire from now until 2006 as a non-overseas player under the controversial Kolpak ruling – which stipulates that any citizen of a country that has an associate agreement with the European Union is now granted the same rights as a European worker.
The 28-year-old Price has reportedly not made secret his desire to qualify to play for England in the future, dashing any prospects the spinner could add to his 18 Test caps for Zimbabwe.
“Like we have always said, the door remains open for all the players. I wouldn’t say it would be a waste of time to pursue reconciliation with the rebels because not all of them are going to get contracts overseas,” Chingoka said.
Part-time spinner Grant Flower and left-arm spinner Price, last week voted Zimbabwe’s cricketer of the year, have been central figures among the group of players who turned their backs on the ZCU to protest former skipper Heath Streak’s sacking.
The duo’s latest employment shifts their focus and could weaken the dissident players, who have already lost two other key protestors during their six-month feud with the ZCU over what they perceive as a racially biased selection policy.
Promising stars Andy Blignaut and Sean Ervine earlier this year committed themselves to Australian provincial cricket sides, while Streak could take up a firm contract at English county Warwickshire and deprive the rebels of all the ringleaders.
“It’s unfortunate we may not get all the players back but remember we made it clear we were building a squad for the 2007 World Cup and some of the players are on the ageing side in cricket standards,” said Chingoka.
“So some of the young players who won’t have contracts and still want to be considered for Zimbabwe are welcome.”
The International Cricket Council (ICC) this week announced a two-man panel to probe racism allegations in Zimbabwe cricket, upon which Streak and his backers have formed the basis of their rebellion.
The ZCU had given in to pressure to reconcile with the rebels hoping to save Zimbabwe’s Test status – suspended for the remainder of the year after the country had failed to field a competitive side.
But it now appears the ICC and all the Test-playing nations will have to resign to life with a Zimbabwean side made up of raw youngsters barely into their 20s as those rebels still unattached are mainly fringe players with no ballast to steady the ship.
“The return of the striking players can only be an extra as we have made arrangements on the basis of playing without them – which is why we decided not to play Tests until the end of the year to give our youngsters some experience,” said Chingoka.
“The coming of India A and later South Africa A should do us good before we resume our Test programme with Bangladesh next year.”