Zimbabwe Cricket has postponed domestic cricket for the rest of 2017, in order to upgrade facilities ahead of next year's World Cup qualifiers and allow themselves breathing room to deal with another cash crunch, which will cause salary delays over the Christmas season.
An internal memo, seen by ESPNcricinfo, was sent to all ZC staff on December 6, and stated that due to "adverse prevailing financial circumstances," ZC was only able to pay 50% of November salaries and also indicated December salaries would not be paid at all. "While ZC is currently making all efforts to secure funding for December this cannot be guaranteed. Accordingly it is highly likely that staff will receive their December salaries in mid-January 2018," the memo read.
Some ZC staff have also been asked to work over their end-of-year break to ensure facilities are ready for the World Cup qualifiers in March. ZC are upgrading five venues - Harare Sports Club, Old Hararians, Queens Sports Club, Bulawayo Athletic Club and Kwekwe Sports Club - for the tournament itself, and Takashinga Cricket Club and Old Mutual Heath Streak Academy as practice venues. Their tasks include rescarifying outfields and planting new grass to painting, plumbing, erecting temporary structures and sprucing up change-rooms and media centres.
An ICC team will arrive in Zimbabwe on Monday to inspect facilities, resulting in all grounds being out of action until at least January 20, 2018. Two Logan Cup matches and six List A matches, due to be played between December 10 and 18 have been postponed, and ZC are yet to confirm new dates. Six of those eight matches were scheduled to be played at grounds that will be used for the World Cup Qualifiers.
Still, with ZC only needing two venues per round of domestic matches - the set-up comprises five teams and only four can play at a time - it may have been possible to move games around, but ZC will also save money by postponing them.
Several sources have indicated that ZC were struggling to cover the costs of domestic games including daily allowances and kit management. In one example, players from the Mountaineers team were wearing three different colours at a List A game because their clothing was being held with the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, awaiting customs clearance, which ZC had yet to pay.
This is the second time ZC has had a salary delay in recent months. When West Indies toured in October, salaries were only partly paid when they were due at the end of the month, and later paid in full. Match fees from the Sri Lanka series, played in July last year, have also not yet been paid despite players being assured they would receive it in September.
At the time, ZC admitted "strained cash flows," exacerbated by hosting West Indies. ZC also revealed they will look to limit home Tests in future, in order to be more financially sustainable. ZC are planning to prepare a monthly cash-flow plan which includes a salary pot.
However, in an uncertain economic climate in Zimbabwe - even after Robert Mugabe's resignation - it will take creative solutions to get ZC in the black. In the short term, the board will receive their ICC distribution amount in January, which they hope to use to clear the outstanding salaries. They will also receive US$1 million for hosting the World Cup qualifiers but that money will go towards stadium upgrades.
That makes Zimbabwe's qualification for the World Cup even more vital - as they will receive a hefty participation fee. Zimbabwe, currently ranked 11th on the ODI rankings, did not automatically qualify for the World Cup. Instead, they will attempt to qualify through a ten-team tournament, which also includes West Indies and Afghanistan (both ranked above Zimbabwe), Netherlands and Ireland in March. The top two teams will play in the 2019 World Cup.