Zimbabwe are not the enemy, confirms Ireland chief
Ozias Bvute, the managing director of Zimbabwe Cricket, has hit back at suggestions that his organisation reneged on an agreement to host Ireland for a ODI and first-class tour in late 2011. The change of heart, he said, came as a result of Zimbabwe's commitments both to the Future Tours Programme and their own domestic competition, and not out of fear of being upstaged by a team that has been barred from participating at the 2015 World Cup, despite currently sitting above them in the world ODI rankings.
"It is very unfortunate that recent media reports aim to portray Zimbabwe as unwilling to play against Ireland and insinuate that the reason is based on an attempt to ostracise them," said Bvute. "Zimbabwe has suffered greatly from the politics of exclusion and we would not wish that on any one. Sport is about participation and increasing the numbers that participate to allow for the sustainability of any given activity."
Zimbabwe's original proposal, in October 2010, had been for Ireland to play three ODIs and a five-day unofficial Test in October/November 2011, as preparation for their New Year visit to New Zealand. However, on March 23, a fortnight prior to the Mumbai meeting in which Ireland's World Cup fate was sealed, that plan was shelved after New Zealand themselves confirmed they would be touring Zimbabwe in that period, having already postponed their scheduled visit in May/June.
Warren Deutrom, Cricket Ireland's chief executive, confirmed that Zimbabwe had not been at fault in the negotiations. "Ozias is absolutely correct," he told ESPNcricinfo. "In the recent Chief Executives Committee meeting, he was extremely supportive of the associates and spoke out strongly in their favour. There is nothing sinister in this whatsoever. We were initially in conversation about travelling to Zimbabwe at the end of the year, but as one of the smaller Full Member nations, they have to wait for the bigger members to organise their own schedules. Simply, there was a clash between the time we wanted to come down, and the contractual obligations they are required to fulfil through the FTP."
Bvute continued: "Cricket Ireland can confirm that when they toured here in September we voluntarily made them an offer to arrange fixtures against them and have since been in communication with their administrators.
"Our last correspondence proposed January 2012 as a possible date. Zimbabwe has a full international and domestic calendar this season and we are not obliged to play against Ireland.
"Our offer to arrange playing opportunities with them is spearheaded by nothing less than the spirit of sportsmanship and inclusion. With the Australian and South African A sides, Bangladesh, New Zealand and Pakistan all having confirmed to tour Zimbabwe between June and November this year there is simply no slot available to accommodate them in 2011."
In correspondence with ESPNcricinfo, Bvute emphasised the priorities for Zimbabwe cricket going forward, which are to build a sustainable domestic structure that will enable the team to hold its own in future ICC events, regardless of how future tournaments are organised. "So the question of having to possibly qualify for a slot in the World Cup poses no heartache for us," he wrote. "Come the 2019 World Cup our strategy should have brought forth a crop of elite players who are able to stand their ground against any team, full-member or not.
"Our long term strategy is to grow our domestic cricket and increase the spectatorship numbers for our local games. The people in Kwekwe, Mutare, Masvingo and Bulawayo will only support their franchises if they can expect to see players that they can identify. The greater the crowds the more likely the corporate world is to further support the game. It is our hope that in the future, with these efforts, we will have a domestic competition that is in itself financially viable and sustainable."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo