Crunch time for Zim cricket

AS ZIMBABWE prepares to welcome half the cricketing world here for the ICC World Cup Qualifiers beginning end of February, excitement is going to grow as we draw closer to the tournament.

Sports Panorama with Enock Muchinjo

Of course, there is a lot to get excited about: West Indies, Ireland, Afghanistan, Netherlands, Scotland, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea and two other national teams all coming to Zimbabwe at once.

This simply is the biggest and most prestigious international sporting event this country has ever single-handedly hosted — in all respects a mini-World Cup for us in this country.

Fans are in for a treat, and Zimbabwe is sure to put up a memorable show. And while it is common knowledge how cricket has retrogressed here since around 2004, is it heartening to see that at least Zimbabwe is still capable of going into a host bid and prevail against the financial muscle of the likes of the United Arab Emirates, Ireland and Scotland — a firm endorsement by the ICC that our heritage in this sport is far richer than theirs. Another pleasing factor for me is the facilities to be used.

Grounds across the nation have been at the receiving end of the decline of the game in the last 14 years, and it so depressing to see the deplorable state of neglect at some of the iconic and near-sacred cricket facilities in this country.

For this qualification tournament, I am delighted to note that apart from Kwekwe Sports Club, Old Hararians (OH) and Bulawayo Athletic Club (bac) — apart from the main international venues of Harare Sports Club and Queens Sports Club — will play host.

Kwekwe really ought to have been converted into a regular international ground a while ago, and OH and BAC are some of the most charming and tranquil surroundings anywhere in the world to watch a cricket game. This is some very good news, something to be positive about for a change. But only as far as the off-field stuff is concerned.

Will Zimbabwe successfully clinch one of the two spots to qualify for the 2019 World Cup finals in the United Kingdom?

I do not have a crystal ball. I think it can be any outcome really.

What I know for sure — following sweeping reforms by the world governing body that the bottom four in the ICC ODI Championship will have to go through a qualification process against the second-tier sides — was that Zimbabwe is in for its biggest litmus test yet.

Zimbabwe has played in every World Cup since 1983, qualifying for the 1983, 1987 and 1992 editions by winning the ICC Trophy and then the rest by automatic Test-membership qualification.

While for their first three World Cup Zimbabwe would qualify almost routinely by dispatching lowly second-tier nations in the ICC Trophy — the newly-established qualification tournament is a different kettle of fish. Apart from the West Indies, new Test nations — the vastly-improved Afghanistan and Ireland — are heading to Zimbabwe for the qualifiers. Never mind the West Indies: our recent record against Afghanistan, in particular, is not at all pleasing.

The Afghans have won their last two ODI series here and no doubt they will be coming tails high again for these qualifiers.

For the first time since 1983, Zimbabwe faces a real danger of not being part of the Cricket World Cup.

I shudder to think what this will do to the game in this country — the finance side of things and also the public interest.

For me, the best way to handle this rather delicate situation is to plan for all eventualities.

First, in the worst case scenario of failing to qualify, the nation has to accept the new lowly status and move on, try to emerge healthier from the wreckage.

Too many times I hear people speak mournfully of the past and I get a little disturbed about it. It is only normal to be wistful, given the difference between past and present. But there is no use in mourning perpetually if it is only for the purpose of grief.

Gone are the pre-2004 days when Bangladesh used to be rolled over the coals by Zimbabwe at any given time, in any conditions, and gone are the days when the best sides in the world were floored at their best from time to time. Gone, too, are a lot of other good things in this country, in every aspect of Zimbabwean life, and almost each and every one of us has a story to tell about how certain things should not have been done the way they were done.

The best we can do, in these circumstances, is to salvage what is left and avoid repeating the old same mistakes all over again.