GAUNTLETS had been thrown down, and after years of frustration, it seemed time was ripe for confrontation.
Sports Panorama with Enock Muchinjo
Bangladesh had arrived in Zimbabwe in 2004, and after the first two ODIs in Bulawayo were abandoned without a ball being bowled due to rain, the Asian side — then a punching bag of the cricketing world —stunned the home team by winning the third game in Harare to take a 1-0 lead in the five-match series.
It was Bangladesh’s first-ever win over Zimbabwe, in fact, their first victory over a fellow Test-playing nation since attaining the five-day format status in 2000.
With Zimbabwe having previously eased to 3-0 whitewash wins over the Asians inside two years, home and away, losing that match in Harare naturally triggered very strong reactions within a proud team that had got used to upsetting the best teams in the world from time to time — an alarming development for a group of players who now believed they had reached a peak so thus viewed losing to Bangladesh, worse a series defeat, as nothing less than a national embarrassment.
Something had to be done to save the series and the selectors, led by the convener Macsood “Max” Ebrahim and with input from captain Heath Streak, made the rather controversial and hotly-disputed decision to drop young batsman Stuart Matsikenyeri for the crucial fourth ODI.
With the rising political temperatures in the country then also spreading to cricket, the selectors had horribly misjudged the mood of the black cricketing community which had been alleging racism and limited opportunities — and with Matsikenyeri having scored 20 off 25 balls in the eight-run defeat to Bangladesh, no worse than most players really — dropping the 20-year-old sparked off a bitter feud of extraordinary proportions.
The firebrand black cricket administrators like Givemore Makoni and Stephen Mangongo were particularly incensed, issuing radical threats ahead of the fourth ODI and prepared to render cricket in the country ungovernable.
“There was a threat and the threat was they were going to dig up the pitch at the Harare Sports Club and no cricket would be played . . . and they were going to do it,” a former ZC official who was at the centre of the storm tells me.
And with that, Zimbabwean cricket was officially divided on racial lines. The selectors were eventually forced to re-select the team for the fourth ODI to include Matsikenyeri, who was dismissed for a duck.
Much to Zimbabwe’s relief, they came from behind to win the series 2-1, but the seeds of animosity had already been sown.
Few months later, growing player discontent would develop into a full-blown political firestorm, 15 senior white players walking out on the team in protest, plunging Zimbabwe into on and off-field crisis.
It was a chapter that gave Zimbabwean cricket a divided past, a past of conflict.
Given such past, amid the wreckage of not qualifying for the 2019 World Cup, you would think people would be at each other’s throats again. Quite the contrary.
The agents of division, who might have thought it was time to capitalise on the despondence across the cricketing fraternity to cause further chaos and confusion for their selfish ends, have been put to shame.
Everywhere, including the powerful social media, an overwhelmingly majority of cricket lovers — players, former players, former administrators, coaches, umpires, groundsmen, fans — have correctly pin-pointed, with solid facts, the root of the problem with cricket in this country, at the very top of Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC).
Those with a conflict hangover, who have tried to continue sowing division — fortunately they are few and misguided — havebeen told off in no uncertain terms.
After years of fighting each other, fighting the wrong enemy — the maturity, unity of purpose as well as the knowledge and love for this great game has been of a most heartening nature. What is now clear to every rational and rightful thinking cricket lover in this country is that Zimbabwe did not entirely fail to qualify for the World Cup when we lost to the United Arab Emirates two weeks ago.
It goes back to that time when a scandalously cricket-devoid board was imposed on the game in January 2006, and the current board is an offshoot of that.
Structures of the game have long been abandoned and cricket ceased to be the core business of ZC. As you read this, domestic first-class cricket has not been played in Zimbabwe for over three months.
Not even talking of the first-class league — just four provinces played anyway — club cricket, which used to be the heart and soul of the game in this country, is almost non-existent. When cricket in this country was thriving and our national team scaling new heights, the domestic season was jam-packed with club fixtures of very good quality and competitive cricket.
In that club cricket structure, national team players, those in the fringes and the aspiring ones, not only entertained us every week, but it was the exhibition of the great talent that we would then see come through the system, feeding all national representative teams. And after mercilessly killing the goose that laid the golden eggs, the once-intact domestic structures of the game, ZC has the audacity to make a disgraceful and laughable statement alluding to a pre-World Cup Qualifiers series defeat to Bangladesh as one of the reasons for firing the national team coach. Is ZC able to tell us if the structure that produced the team which used to dominate the likes of Bangladesh is the same as we have today?
Of course not, unless somebody has been hallucinating very badly. But thankfully, the vast majority in our midst is not delusional.
Cricketers and cricket lovers in this country have had to learn the hard way, from a past torn apart by deep divisions and mistrust. To finally see the cricketing community identify the real cause of the heartache, and speak out against it with one voice and with dignity and courage, is a giant step in reclaiming the game and safeguarding its heritage and future.
If not going to the World Cup was what it was going to take, to unite the Zimbabwean cricket family, we must learn to live with it.