Players cajoled into signing restrictive contracts April 6, 2007

Alarmed Zimbabwe look to prevent player exodus

Steven Price looks at the pressures put on Zimbabwe's players to sign contracts that bind them to the country and prevent them from earning a living elsewhere

There is growing confusion over the exact terms of the contracts signed by Zimbabwe's World Cup squad shortly before they headed off to the Caribbean, and also concern over the pressure put on the players by the board.

What is certain is that the players were summoned to meet Ozias Bvute, Zimbabwe Cricket's managing director, a week or so before they were due to set off and given an ultimatum - sign the contract on offer or be removed from the squad. It is understood that they were not allowed to take advice and were told they had to make the decision there and then.

Cricinfo has learned that one player told his team-mates that there were certain things contained in the contracts that needed clarification. He was summoned back into Bvute's office and warned that it was a take-it-or-leave -it offer. Another said that when he told Bvute he wanted to consult with friends, Bvute picked up the phone and called Kenyon Ziehl, the head of selection, and told him he wanted the player replaced in the squad. Unsurprisingly, the player backed down and signed.

The players are being paid about US$2000 per appearance and a series of bonuses base don wickets taken and fifties scored. So, someone like Chamu Chibhabha, who played in all three games but failed to make a fifty, would earn US$6000. Anthony Ireland, who retired from international cricket as soon as the side returned home, would earn US$2000 for his single appearance and about US$500 for the one wicket he took. The maximum payment is believed to be around US$8000.

And there was another catch. The board did not want players taking the money and then heading to England to take up lucrative club contracts. More importantly, there was, and remains, a deep concern that with the World Cup over and the country in virtual political and economic meltdown, more players would quit Zimbabwe altogether and join the ranks of those making a living overseas.

With this in mind, the contract they were "persuaded" to sign tied them to Zimbabwe for at least six months, compelling them to play in all domestic competitions as well as international matches. Furthermore, the board were sensible enough to realise that there was no leverage in paying players in the virtually worthless local currency, and so they were promised US dollars.

The last handcuff came with the news that the players would not be paid immediately for the World Cup - they would have to wait until June. The thought process was obvious. If they wanted paying, they would need to remain in Zimbabwe until such a time it would be too late for them to take up offers to play abroad.

There was also the small matter of the board's finances being in such a state that the money might not have been there anyway. ZC had to borrow around US$1 million earlier this year, pending receipt of monies from the World Cup, to help them over an ongoing cash crisis.

The contractual handcuffs looked less than secure when Ireland quit earlier this week, lured to Gloucestershire on a two-year contract with far less baggage attached to it. The board will be nervously waiting to see if more follow.

As a final twist, it seems that the board has forbidden the players from meeting together as it is feared that much meetings could serve to fuel discontent. Increasing desperate times clearly call for increasingly desperate measures.