Playing in Australia costs Sibanda spot on NZ tour
Vusi Sibanda, the Zimbabwe opener, has not been selected for the upcoming tour to New Zealand because he chose to play grade cricket in Australia and declined a Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) contract. The omission of Sibanda is in keeping with ZC's policies of regarding players who are not part of its domestic structure as ineligible for national selection.
Zimbabwe play a one-off Test, three ODIs and two Twenty20 internationals in New Zealand, and named a 15-man squad led by Brendan Taylor.
Sibanda did not accept an offer from his franchise, the Mid West Rhinos, where he was captain, at the start of the domestic season in September 2011, but continued to play for the national team. He did not play the Stanbic T20 competition in December and travelled to Sydney to play for Eastern Suburbs.
At the time, Alistair Campbell, chairman of Zimbabwe's cricket committee, told Sibanda that he would not be considered for the national team if he chose to go to Australia. Head coach Alan Butcher was asked if Sibanda would definitely be ruled out; he said, "Not as far as he or I are concerned," leaving room for uncertainty over Sibanda's future.
Sibanda returned to Zimbabwe earlier than expected in an attempt to be considered for the New Zealand tour. Sources close to the player said his arrangement in Australia was no longer working out after he hoped to be contracted for the Big Bash League but was not.
Sibanda was named in Zimbabwe's 20-man training squad last week. The Zimbabwe Independent reported that he was not included in any of the team's drills when they trained, while members of Zimbabwe's selection and cricket committees debated whether they should include Sibanda in the final squad. Campbell said the selectors decided to stick with their original decision.
"He knew when he decided to go that he would not be considered for selection for Zimbabwe," Alistair Campbell, chairman of the cricket committee, told ESPNcricinfo. "When he returned, we debated it, and decided that we cannot set precedents for players to go and play in other country's domestic competitions and not at home, and then be considered for the national team."
Taylor, however, is currently playing in New Zealand's HRV Cup, where he represented Wellington in seven matches. He missed three first-class matches and two List A matches in Zimbabwe, but Campbell justified Taylor's actions.
"With Brendan Taylor, it was different. The board has always been in favour of players going to play in other country's 20-over leagues to learn a bit about the conditions as long as it does not conflict with our cricket," Campbell said. "We can't have players substituting domestic cricket with club cricket in another country." Taylor is still contracted to ZC. He will meet up with the squad once they reach New Zealand.
The tour will be a litmus test for Taylor, who will lead Zimbabwe for the first time away from home since taking over the captaincy after the World Cup last year. It will also include the first away Test Zimbabwe will play in six years, after they made a return to the five-day format in August 2011.
Sibanda was an integral part of Zimbabwe's Test comeback. He scored 78 against Bangladesh in their first Test of the new era, which Zimbabwe won by 130 runs. He also contributed an important and 93 in the 34-run loss to New Zealand in Bulawayo two months later. As one of their most senior players in the Zimbabwe squad, Sibanda was also part of the leadership team.
Despite the snub, Sibanda's chances of representing Zimbabwe are not over. He is currently playing for the Rhinos on a pay-as-you-play basis and will renegotiate a contract at the start of the next season. "If he plays in Zimbabwe and shows his commitment to our cricket, he will be considered again," Campbell said.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent