Cost-saving forces change of venue for second Test
Zimbabwe Cricket have implemented drastic cost-saving measures, including playing the second Test against Pakistan in Harare instead of travelling to Bulawayo, to ensure the remainder of the series goes ahead as planned. Other measures could include ensuring the players are paid this week, as agreed, but it will likely be at the expense of administration staff.
Sources revealed the second Test, due to start next Tuesday, was "99% confirmed," for Harare Sports Club on Tuesday evening and that the groundstaff and match referee all agreed to that. But the switch was announced over the loudspeaker at Harare Sports Club, where the first Test was being played, to loud cheers. The official reason given was that Queens Club was "not in a condition to host the Test". That means the entire Pakistan series, consisting of two Twenty20s, three ODIs and two Tests will be staged on the same ground and ZC would save close to US$50,000 on travel costs and hotel fees in the process.
Most of the Zimbabwe players are based in Harare, which would mean they could continue to stay at home, rather than in paid accommodation in Bulawayo. The money required to drive them and the television crew down would also be saved.
"We enjoy playing here in Harare. The conditions are good for both the batsmen and the bowlers. It's a good move and the guys are happy," batsman Malcolm Waller said after the second day's play of the first Test.
The only loser in such a situation would be Bulawayo's Queens Club, which has not seen a Test match since 2011, when New Zealand beat Zimbabwe there. The country has hosted three Tests since then, including the current one against Pakistan, all at the Harare Sports Club. Bulawayo has recently made attempts to create a more lively pitch, relaying the clay on three surfaces on the square but they will have to wait, perhaps until next year to try them out.
Zimbabwe's other proposed incoming tour was the one by Sri Lanka next month, comprising two Tests, three ODIs and two Twenty20s, but ZC have requested this be postponed. Sri Lanka Cricket confirmed they received an email from ZC citing "unavoidable circumstances" have led to them seeking alternative dates for the series. ESPNcricinfo has since learned ZC are considering proposing a shortened tour of only five T20s to Sri Lanka but the SLC have not had communication to that effect.
Zimbabwe's ability to host more international cricket in 2013 will depend heavily on the cost of organisation. A severe cash-flow problem has affected the union through the year and it seems unlikely to be solved soon. In April, players threatened to strike during the series against Bangladesh because those who were not on central contracts were offered allowances which they deemed unsatisfactory. Since then, the threats have intensified.
Before the Pakistan series, the players formed a union - the first of its kind in a decade - and did not train in protest after not being paid. They gave ZC various ultimatums which put the possibility of the whole tour, then the third ODI and then the Test series at risk. Each time, they agreed to play after ZC promised payment.
Monies have still not been transferred and the players have set another deadline of Friday this week. They are adamant they will boycott the second Test if they do not receive their outstanding dues, which include salaries from July and August and match fees. While ZC have stated publicly that they are in talks with their banker, it has since been established they will struggle to meet the demand.
Their only solution has been to inform staff, apparently in an email, that they will not be paid salaries from August. Any available funds will then be paid to the players. ZC staff contracts expired at the end of August and the body is in negotiations to renew them but has not done so to date. Staff are still working, though, despite the uncertainty.
Steven Price is a freelance journalist