Let’s not squander another chance

Sports Panorama: Enock Muchinjo

WHILE the forthcoming tours by the fast-rising Afghanistan and United Arab Emirates in April can be viewed in a sense as mitigating Zimbabwe’s absence from the World Cup, the games can have a considerable bearing on the future of Zimbabwean cricket in a much broader view.

First, with the opportunity that presented itself this week to ring in changes in the leadership of the Zimbabwe team, time was right to take a longer-term view and give a younger player the chance to captain the side. In addition to allowing the new skipper to serve his apprenticeship in a less stressful situation, the choice of a younger emerging player as captain would have shown that Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) is seriously looking towards the next generation to lead the team for the next decade and beyond.

The ZC board, instead, decided this week to extend the tenure of the 35-year-old Hamilton Masakadza in a move that — with all due respect to the veteran batsman — exposes once again the lack of strategic foresight in those running the game in this country. As a cricketing nation, we continue to show an astonishing lack of trust in young players, which is all the more surprising given our record under the leadership of some of the so-called experienced players.

Take, for example, that PJ Moor — only now promoted to be Masakadza’s deputy—is still seen as some kind of rookie learning the ropes, while Steve Smith has since captained Australia with some success between 2014 and 2018.

Come to think of it, Moor and Smith both played at the 2008 Under-19 World Cup for their countries. The faith that ZC has shown in Masakadza, meanwhile, cannot be undone, but that is not to say we cannot salvage some positives out of it. Success rate and his captaincy style out of the discussion, Masakadza should and is quite capable of playing a key mentoring role to the younger players for the remainder of his career, starting with the tours by Afghanistan and UAE.

It will be another gigantic blunder if the ZC board and selection panel stick with the same tried-and-failed players when these two emerging sides arrive in April.

Our selectors have this strange knack of picking the same players with the hope that this time they might perform. Recalling Elton Chigumbura late last year did not give selectors the vindication they were hoping for. This is the time to aggressively incorporate youngsters directly into the playing 11, not just as the 12th man passing around water. We do have a group of young Zimbabwean players, locally and abroad, with the guts to have a go at the opposition.

It is scandalous how as a nation we could not hold on to such sublime talents as Nick Welch and Eddie Byrom and then lately the exciting fast bowling prospect Blessing Muzarabani. Hosting Afghanistan and UAE at this moment in Zimbabwean cricket is a particularly wonderful opportunity to build a new team because, truthfully, we have nothing to lose but everything to gain.

With all our old-guard around, Afghanistan have been dominating us for four years now, winning the last four successive ODI series against Zimbabwe. As for the UAE, they denied us, at full strength, a place at the World Cup.

So really, what is there to play for anymore, or to prove, for some of our older players? I would love to see a new-look Zimbabwe team, with the younger generation assembled around a core group of skipper Masakadza, Brendan Taylor, Sean Williams, Kyle Jarvis and Tendai Chatara.

The past is gone, let us not fear the future.