Zimbabwe players express concerns over Pakistan tour
Several Zimbabwean players are wary of touring Pakistan next month but have committed to making the 10-day trip out of necessity to play competitive cricket. Speaking on condition of anonymity, players told ESPNcricinfo they are everything from "nervous" to "scared" of visiting the country no Test team has been to in six years, even though they have been promised heightened security during their stay.
"We need the cricket," one player said. "And it's not like we have a lot of tours lined up," another added.
Zimbabwe have not played any cricket since the World Cup, which is no different to India, South Africa, Sri Lanka or Australia, but they also did not have many tours scheduled for the rest of 2015. They had been in what Zimbabwe Cricket chairman Wilson Manase described as "extensive discussions with Pakistan which started last year," to help fill the gap. An agreement was reached this week.
Pakistan promised both safety and a reciprocal tour to Zimbabwe in August, the details of which have yet to be confirmed.
The itinerary for Zimbabwe's visit to Pakistan has been released with two T20s and three ODIs, which will all be played at Lahore's Gaddafi Stadium. Karachi, which was also mooted as a venue for the tour, was scrapped because of logistical problems that could not guarantee the same level of safety as in Lahore. ZC will send an advance party to Pakistan next week, of which Alistair Campbell, the managing director of cricket will be part of, to make a final assessment of the facilities in Lahore, but Manase is confident they will be satisfied with the arrangements.
"A high-level delegation from Zimbabwe will tour Pakistan to see the terrain and to make sure when our players go they will be looked after," Manase said. "I am not in any doubt that the Pakistan Cricket Board will look after us well. This tour was announced by the president of Pakistan himself - not the president of the cricket board, the president of the country so you can see the kind of level that this tour is being looked at."
Manase was unaware of any internal concerns about the trip, saying the players are "already practicing and they have agreed to travel." All Zimbabwe's regulars will be available for selection, apart from Tendai Chatara who has been ruled out of action for six months with a broken leg. There is also talk of comebacks for fast bowler Chris Mpofu and batsman Charles Coventry. Manase added that the Zimbabwean government had been informed of the trip through the sports and recreation committee and raised no objections. He also hopes this will open the door for more fixtures for Zimbabwe in the future, both at home and away.
"As part of the Future Tours Programme, Zimbabwe has a duty to tour other nations, just like they have a duty to tour us," Manase said. "In the past we have had constraints, some of them political and some of them hinging on sanctions - countries who felt that although sport is a not a political issue, they could not have sporting relations with us. I believe that is in a thing of the past. We have held discussions with most boards; everyone wants to come to Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe will be touring their countries."
He did not specify whether England, who have not been to Zimbabwe since 2003 or hosted them since 2004 are part of this group. All other Full Member countries have played against Zimbabwe and all but West Indies have visited them since their Test comeback in 2011, but Zimbabwe have been to the Caribbean. Zimbabwe have already announced a bumper season that includes visits from New Zealand, Bangladesh and South Africa. Manase revealed South Africa would stopover in Zimbabwe on their way to Bangladesh in July.
All this cricket is not merely Zimbabwe's way of ensuring they play as much as other Full Members but part of a plan to ensure automatic qualification for the 2019 World Cup, the event from which ZC makes most of its money. The revised structure of the 50-over competition means only teams in the top eight will be guaranteed a place at the tournament, with the remaining two positions to be decided on qualifiers and Zimbabwe do not want to leave anything to chance.
"We have to be able to be in the top eight by the end of 2016. We must have already qualified," Manase said, "It's possible. If you watched the games at the World Cup, anything can happen. England were out in the first round."
So were Zimbabwe but Manase was pleased with the team's performance, especially because their planning was minimal compared to other teams. Dav Whatmore was appointed six weeks before the tournament but his influence was evident. "Time was limited but we did not disappoint," Manase said. "We did not embarrass at all."
Manase has recently returned from ICC meetings and he received compliments from other board members including Wally Edwards, Giles Clarke and N Srinivasan, the heads of the Australian, English and Indian boards respectively.
"The whole board agreed that Zimbabwe played well," Manase said. "Maybe the problem we had was that before we went to the World Cup, no matter how good a coach Dav is, we only had played 49 ODIs between the last World Cup and this one. The next team, which played the least games, was Bangladesh and they had 120. We played less than half what they did." Starting with the tour to Pakistan, Zimbabwe hope to change that by the time the next tournament comes around.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent