Feels like déjà vu all over again

POLITICAL temperatures across the country, just as in cricket, were rising to unbearable levels.

By Enock Muchinjo

It was around 2004, in the build-up to the hotly disputed parliamentary polls held the following year and described by the opposition as a “sham election” and an “electoral fraud”.

In cricket, temperatures also rose sharply as the infamous “rebels” saga saw the sacking of 15 senior white players who had dared take on Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) in a contractual dispute whose terrible consequences have long stalked the game in this country.

Captain Heath Streak was replaced by the young wicketkeeper Tatenda Taibu, who accordingly earned the enviable distinction of the youngest ever skipper in Test cricket history. Tavengwa Mukuhlani, who today is the chairman of ZC, was then a very influential board member of the association, which remained stubbornly unyielding in its quest to quash the player power threatening their control of cricket in Zimbabwe.

A lawyer, Clive Field, became the representative of the players’ union which tussled with ZC tooth-and-nail, and lost the good fight.

As for Taibu, a year after assuming the captaincy of a very raw Zimbabwe team he would himself fall foul of ZC, resigning and leaving the country in panic after claiming to have received threats of a very serious nature. Among those to put the fear of God into the youthful captain, it was reported, was the fiery sports enthusiast and politician-in-the-making Temba Mliswa.

Fast-forward 14 years later, the script has an uncanny similarity, and includes some of the old characters.

Mukuhlani is now chairman of ZC, and he finds himself in another war of sorts with players, and as in 2004, it is those of a certain skin colour that seem to have come off worst from the scrimmage with the Zimbabwean cricket board.

Brendan Taylor, Graeme Cremer, Craig Ervine, Sean Williams and Sikandar Raza are excluded from the forthcoming T20 series with Pakistan and Australia which begins on Sunday.
A player representative body, a perpetual nightmare for those governing cricket in Zimbabwe and clearly something that’s sneered upon in the boardroom, is again one of the reasons for the fallout which could lead Zimbabwean cricket into yet another standoff of unimaginable proportions.

Like 14 years ago, a feisty lawyer, Gerald Mlotshwa, is the driving force behind the players’ fight against a system they deem historically unjust.

Heath Streak and Tatenda Taibu, who in 2004 and 2005 fronted an onslaught against ZC as respected recent former captains, are on the warpath again today: one as immediate-past national coach and the other as immediate-past chief selector. And, once again, the love affair with ZC has ended bitterly.

What of Mliswa? Where does he fit into the equation this time around? Well, the independent lawmaker is still also fighting, this time on the other side — against the administrators and with the players — but nonetheless in the wars as usual.

Mukuhlani is the most experienced antagonist in it all. When all the brickbats have been hurled his direction, all the dossiers put together, all the allegations and all the overtures — he seems to have weathered a menacing storm.

For how long we will not know for now.

What we know for sure is that cricket in Zimbabwe is ensnared in a trap of toxic conflicts from which it just will not escape.