Splendid and dismal

Zimbabwe produced moments of brilliance on the field that gave just enough succour to keep hopes of a better future alive
Liam Brickhill December 23, 2013

Zimbabwe's Test win over Pakistan was their first against a major side since 2001 © AFP

In keeping with the original spirit of Mark Twain's oft-quoted line about his own obituary, reports of the death of cricket in Zimbabwe are routinely exaggerated.

Cricket in the country isn't dead, but it existed in a near-constant state of penury throughout 2013, and a bloating, debilitating debt of at least US$15 million left no room for expansion or innovation. Contingency piled upon contingency and more than once it appeared the whole sorry mess might scutter off the rails. Yet there were moments of brilliance on the field that gave just enough succour to keep hopes of a better future alive.

The year rumbled ominously into view with a row between former sports minister David Coltart's Sports and Recreation Commission and powerful members of the Zimbabwe Cricket set-up. The SRC had attempted to impose international norms upon Zimbabwe's selection committees across all sports, suggesting that any person tasked with convening the selection of a national side should have played international sport themselves. The result was an ugly fracas that lent a grumpy air to the team's trip to the Caribbean in March, their first international tour in over a year and Alan Butcher's last as national coach.

Givemore Makoni, the convenor of selectors and the person most affronted by the SRC's directive, kicked up enough of a stink to ensure he stayed in the position, and by the end of July it was Coltart who was looking for a new job after being ousted in a general election that might charitably be described as flawed. There are those in ZC's administration who will have celebrated the end of Coltart's tenure, despite the great lengths he went to in convincing the rest of the world that Zimbabwe should no longer be considered cricket's pariah. The players will surely miss his influence.

Their win over Pakistan in the second Test, in Harare, in September was rightfully and joyously celebrated: it was their first over a major Test side since 2001, when they beat India at the same venue. It was all the more special for its unexpectedness, coming in a year of topsy-turvy results. Zimbabwe were noticeably rusty in the West Indies and came off slightly better than Bangladesh in their home series in April-May, drawing the Test and T20 series and taking the ODIs 2-1. Their 335-run win in the first Test was their biggest in terms of runs, but Zimbabwe weren't quite at their best during the tour, and at times it seemed that they were on top by virtue of not playing quite as badly as the tourists were.

Off the field, this year was especially tough for Zimbabwe's cricketers, who threatened strike action no less than three times over non-payment of monies owed to them

Zimbabwe seemed to unravel when India visited, playing worse with each game, but set many of their mistakes right against Pakistan. Given the pattern of improvement, an end-of-year visit by Sri Lanka would have made for very interesting viewing, but alas, by then ZC's cupboard was bare and they couldn't afford to host another team. They very nearly couldn't afford to begin their own domestic season, which eventually started over a month late, without any sponsors, after an emergency visit by an ICC delegation.

Off the field, this year was especially tough for Zimbabwe's cricketers, who threatened strike action no less than three times over non-payment of monies owed to them. They found the presence of mind and unity of purpose to create a players' union, finally, in August. That they eventually did so only after the pugilistic Ozias Bvute had left ZC after 12 years, for a position on the board of the beleaguered national airline, Air Zimbabwe, was probably not a coincidence. Given his modus operandi, it's hard to imagine Bvute having countenanced such action.

The players bumbled a little into their new, unionised set-up, and it remains to be seen just how effective the union can be when negotiating with a board that is millions of dollars beyond broke, but it is a historic development nonetheless.

It appears to have come too late for batsman Craig Ervine and fast bowler Kyle Jarvis, though, who both left the country (perhaps on Air Zimbabwe flights) to pursue careers overseas and whose loss will be keenly felt.

Others managed to score overseas contracts while remaining available for the national side, but life was often little better away from home for Zimbabwe's cricketers. Several players approached the challenge of securing money owed to them after stints in the Bangladesh and Dhaka premier leagues with what must be by now a familiar sense of exhaustion and dread. The warning signs appeared soon after the BPL T20, when payments were delayed by more than two months.

For some, the situation worsened after the DPL. A furious Sean Williams took to social media after being left stranded along with Sean Ervine in a Dhaka hotel without their confiscated passports when the team they'd been playing for, Brothers Union, failed to pay accommodation fees. Both players were also still owed money by their club, and Williams vented on Twitter, saying he wished to "never set foot on this soil ever again in my life".

Unfortunately for him, once back in Zimbabwe, he played in Matabeleland Tuskers' first Logan Cup game of the delayed season before the whole shebang went cattywampus once more, with yet another player strike, this time involving senior players from every domestic franchise. Bring on 2014.

Ray Price celebrates Steve Tikolo's wicket, Kenya v Zimbabwe, Group A, World Cup 2011, Kolkata, March 20, 2011
Ray Price: a cricketer defined as much by his character as he was by his sporting skill © Getty Images

High point
Pakistan are one of the more watchable teams in international cricket, whether you're rooting for or against them, and the fifth day denouement of the second Test at Harare Sports Club provided some of the most absorbing Test cricket of the whole year. The set-up was nearly perfect: Zimbabwe took the field on the final morning needing five wickets and Pakistan 106 runs. Misbah-ul-Haq took the visitors to within striking distance of their target, but the Zimbabweans overcame the nerves of a dramatic finale unprecedented in their careers to pull off a 24-run win. For the first time in a long time, it was their triumph on the field that made headlines.

Low point
There were a couple of blots in Zimbabwe's copybook this year, particularly during the tension of the player strikes. Assistant coach Stephen Mangongo's scuffle with young legspinner Natsai Mushangwe wasn't too pretty either, but it was in the cancellation of Sri Lanka's visit and the subsequent postponement of the domestic season that Zimbabwe approached their nadir. In December, disgruntled and empty-pocketed senior players from every franchise decided they'd had enough and downed tools yet again. This festive season will be a sombre one.

New kid on the block
The first thing one notices when watching Tendai Chatara bowl is his curiously lopsided action, his left arm almost glued to his side as he rushes through the crease. But at the other end of that action, this year, there were wickets - and lots of them. Chatara, who is only 22, took 32 wickets in 18 international games in 2013. Jarvis collected more Test scalps, but Chatara proved his usefulness across all formats and his maiden Test five-for sealed the Test win over Pakistan. Given Jarvis' retirement, Chris Mpofu's fall down the pecking order, and Brian Vitori's susceptibility to injury, Chatara could well find himself Zimbabwe's senior bowler in 2014.

Fading star
Zimbabwe shed several bright lights in 2013. Craig Ervine had been the only batsman to return from the winless tour of the Caribbean in March with his reputation enhanced, and Jarvis had, at just 24 years old, already shown he had the mettle to be a Test-quality quick. But it was Ray Price's retirement that took a hefty chunk out of the team's soul, and its spine. Price was that increasingly rare creature: a cricketer defined as much by his character as by his sporting skill. Price asked for and deserved the opportunity to say goodbye to Zimbabwean cricket with one last match. That he was denied the chance speaks volumes for the regard in which Zimbabwe's cricketers are held by their bosses.

What 2014 holds
Though Zimbabwe will enter the year deep in the red, there should be at least a little easing of the financial pressure upon them in the coming months. The board will receive a cut from the World Twenty20, though it's unclear how much of that will go to the cricketers themselves, who have asked for 10%. There are plans for a tri-series involving Australia and South Africa, which will bring in substantial revenue from the sale of television rights. Beyond that, there is a World Cup on the horizon, and ICC CEO Dave Richardson expects Zimbabwe to receive revenues of up to US$25 million over the next few years. That could still amount to very little progress without clear and effective administration, and Zimbabwe will face as many hurdles off the field as they do on it.

Zimbabwe also appear to be moving towards greater participation against the leading Associates, with a limited-overs series against Afghanistan mooted for January and talk of four-day games against Ireland during the year. If such allies can be courted, and convinced to foot some of the bill, Zimbabwe could fill more of the gaps in their calendar without leaving themselves out of pocket.

Posted by ZCFOutkast on (December 23, 2013, 7:11 GMT)

In saying "reports of the death of cricket in Zimbabwe are routinely exaggerated" - that's about the only reasonable thing you've pointed out.

"SRC had attempted to impose international norms upon Zimbabwe's selection committees across all sports" - these are not international norms. What is an international norm is to employ legislation which works against the majority, and that was Coltart's sole goal. You forget to mention that it was a fraudulent and illegal move. A legal SRC board did not exist at the time, so this was a unilateral attempt by the Senator, who was embarassed as a result.

"after being ousted in a general election that might charitably be described as flawed" - keep your opinions to yourself. The overwhelming majority voted for a government of their choice after the opposition revealed its true colours. The fact that it wasn't a puppet government you prefer does not make it flawed.

I wish Zimbabwe,ZC and it's people&cricketers all the best in 2014!!!

Posted by grahaam on (December 23, 2013, 7:18 GMT)

Nice article , true and to the point, greater participation with the associate sides is not a good thing...simply helping rivals improve there chances of matching Zimbabwes status, this will lead to less cricket against top teams and a decline in player quality.

Posted by jw76 on (December 23, 2013, 7:40 GMT)

A good, fair summary, I think. Yes, Ray Price was eased out of the national team undeservedly. But I assure you that Kyle Jarvis and Craig Ervine did not leave the country on Air Zimbabwe flights - Air Zimbabwe were in an even worse state than Zimbabwe Cricket financially and there were no flights at all!

Posted by grahaam on (December 23, 2013, 8:01 GMT)

@ZCF Outkast this is great , well researched article , the elections were declared flawed by the whole international and local media , Coltarts efforts to set proper administration of ZC were supported by many , the proof is that because he failed ZC continue to be unable to manage cricket in Zimbabwe. Part of the criteria for having Test status involves having a structured first class set up. Zimbabwe currently does not have any fist class cricket , as the players have not been paid again...Ireland should be encouraged to set up a 4 province first class system. This would attract some good Zim players. ZC have now opened the door for the Irish.

Posted by Nduru on (December 23, 2013, 8:22 GMT)

The usual ZANU-PF bile from ZCF Outkast, I see. Well done Liam, you called it as it was. Sadly for you ZCF Outkast, with your cronies in power, our team will now go downhill fast, as will the whole economy. It is no coincidence that Zimbabwe's resurgence took place over the period of the transitional government, which provided a brief respite of sanity and stability.

Posted by Peter87 on (December 23, 2013, 9:52 GMT)

ZCF Outkast your comments are humorous to say the least. This article is well articulated, factual and to the point. Your views seem to be overly politicised such that either you believe what you are writing, or your are in complete denial. The fact is that Zimabwe Cricket adminsitraiton is in a shambles. Players haven't been paid on time, the local first class league has no sponsors and some of Zimbabwe's brightest prospects are now playing overseas. Ballance, Ervine brothers, Jarvis, De Grand Homme to name a few.

On the bright side there are definitely some talented youngsters coming through in Zim; Chatara, Vitori and the likes. I wish them the best.

Posted by   on (December 23, 2013, 10:47 GMT)

It would be the best decision by icc and zcb to have a series with Afghanistan and Ireland it wouldn't Only improve the junior teams performencw like Ireland and Afghanistan but also would increase the numbers of fans for the cricket Icc should give the opportunities to such teams so that they can improve their cricket I can't wait to see Afghanistan and Zimbabwe competing each other Iqraar Jaan From Afghanistan

Posted by ZCFOutkast on (December 24, 2013, 8:25 GMT)

The points remain: 1-Coltart's efforts via a non-existant board were illegal(which is why they were not upheld); and 2-There is no business disputing, on this platform, an election which was cleared by Africans' organistions(AU&SADC) and several heads of state throughout the world! All of the other points could have been articulated minus those arguments which were needless to say the least. You guys are welcome to present false evidence that what Coltart did was legal but I won't hold my breath! Stick to facts, not assumptions and opinions. Honest reporting would've revealed that.

As for the efforts to convince other nations to resume ties with Zimbabwe&ZC, there was never a justifiable need to cut them off to begin with. Just certain figures irresponsibly flexing their muscles as usual. Afterall, Zimbabwe isn't&was never anything like Apartheid SA which they were all too happy to associate with even via rebel tours, and quick to resume ties with unconditionally soon after.

Posted by grahaam on (December 24, 2013, 9:46 GMT)

ZCFOutkast, unfortunately your propaganda does not wash with us, look through the comments here, everybody thinks your opinion is poor...have a nice Christmas you seemingly have no interest in Zimbabwe's cricket future, whilst supporting a poor Government and Cricket board...I notice another young Zimbabwean player is now playing elsewhere, Solomon Mire representing the Melbourne Regagades ..more will follow, Zimbabwe's future in Cricket will probably be in regional competition against the likes of Tanzania, Botswana and Zambia...unless attitudes change quickly

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