Zimbabwe stars find life tough in Australia
The Zimbabwe exiles Sean Ervine and Andy Blignaut have discovered that international reputations count for little in Australia. Both were considered the sport's future in their troubled homeland before an ugly dispute this year with the Zimbabwe Cricket Union.
Now they can't make a state team in Australia. Twelve months ago Ervine claimed the scalps of Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting, Darren Lehmann and Steve Waugh and made a half-century in a Test at the WACA. This week he is playing for the Western Australia Second XI at Perth's Fletcher Park and is in a four-way battle with the allrounders Peter Worthington, Darren Wates and Kade Harvey for one spot.
"A lot of people are expecting a lot out of me, but I have to get used to the conditions and competing against players I don't know," Ervine was reported as saying by AAP. "I have had to take a few steps back and start all over again and have gone from playing international cricket to grade cricket. At least I will value my spot."
Part of the reason Ervine shifted to Perth was to live with his partner Melissa Marsh, the daughter of the former Australia vice-captain Geoff. But Wayne Clark, the Western Australia coach, was blunt about his prospects. "There are people in front of him," said Clark. "He needs to make a statement, because he is not going to walk into the team."
On the other side of the country is Blignaut. He is also finding himself on the outer in Tasmania after figures of 0 for 79 off 12 overs in his Pura Cup debut against Western Australia. Blignaut, a hard-hitting allrounder and former model, is not yet at full fitness and the Tasmanian coach Brian McFadyen said Blignaut was a "project player". McFadyen said it was unfair to pass judgment until he had completed another month of fitness work.
Blignaut picked up 51 wickets at 32.62 and scored 638 runs at 24.53 in 15 Tests for Zimbabwe. But he is best known for his 54 off 28 balls against Australia in the 2003 World Cup. He can bowl in excess of 140kph and according to McFadyen "can hit the ball as hard as anyone I have seen".
Ervine, 21, and Blignaut, 26, were among the rebel players involved in a row over racial selection quotas with the ZCU, which resulted in a mass exodus of the team. Their former team-mate Travis Friend, 23, who played 13 Tests, is the other Zimbabwean player in exile in Australia. He is currently playing grade cricket in Sydney.
Blignaut had no regrets about the players' stand that ended in their sacking. "It was very difficult but at the end of the day we stood up for what we believed in and still believe in," he said. "We all get fired for that and then you have to look at the next best option. We had to move on."