November 17, 2006

Zimbabwe

Better the devil you know

Martin Williamson

Steven Price in Harare

The news that Peter Chingoka has survived the internal firestorm of the last year to emerge still as the chairman of the new, improved Zimbabwe Cricket is about as surprising as Robert Mugabe winning the last/next presidential election. In Zimbabwe it's more who you know than what you stand for that matters.

Chingoka's tenure as ZC chief - well into its second decade - has hardly been a success. Admittedly - and even his critics acknowledge this - up until about 2003 he could justifiably claim to have done a decent job. But, mirroring the decline of Zimbabwe as a whole, the last few years have been a catalogue of failures. The exodus of talent, the collapse of established internal structures, allegations of financial mismanagement and intimidation have all been to the fore. On the field, the side has become an international joke, and not a very funny one at that. And much of the blame for that must rest with Chingoka.

So how come Teflon Pete remains at the helm? The key is that he has friends in high places, both inside and outside the country.

One thing Chingoka has always been good at is cultivating relationships, and this has ensured that he has been able to call on friends when the heat has been on Zimbabwe. Of late, he has made sure that Zimbabwe has backed India within the ICC, and that loyalty has been rewarded. The ICC inspection carried out in August by Percy Sonn and Malcom Speed further endorsed his grip[ on power. Sonn and Chingoka are old mates, so there were hardly any surprises there, but more importantly the ICC realised that it was far better dealing with Chingoka rather than an unknown quantity. In Zimbabwe, more often than not the person next in line is far worse than the one in charge, and in cricketing circles that also applies.

The ICC hierarchy is not stupid either. They realised that whatever the faults of Chingoka, he was likely to be in situ for some time and so they would be better backing him and trying to work on change through official channels rather than alienating him. That might have meant them looking the other way when confronted with some unpalatable internal issues, but they would argue that is a price worth paying.

Within Zimbabwe, Chingoka plays a shrewd political game, remains a skilled operator and has the knack of being able to stay one step ahead of the opposition. Opponents have come and gone in the last year, and all the time Chingoka has survived.

What has been irreparably damaged is his reputation. Those close to him suggest that he is concerned about his legacy, but it is hard to see how he can emerge from the shambles with much in the plus column.

All Chingoka can hope is that things do start to get better before he finally steps down. There are occasional signs that the crisis may have bottomed out, mainly because it would be hard to see how it could get any worse. For now, he's still there and Zimbabwe cricket needs to accept that and make the best of a bad situation.

As the last year has shown, fighting Chingoka only produces one winner.

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Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Martin Williamson
Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.

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