Massive trust issues in Zimbabwe - Butcher
A deep-seated trust issue is central to the problems Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) faces as it attempts to build a unified outfit, according to former national coach Alan Butcher. That conclusion was the starkest takeaway from his book The Good Murungu: A Cricket Tale of the Unexpected, an account of his three years in charge of Zimbabwe.
The honest, personal story of Butcher's time with the team, which he largely enjoyed thoroughly, is filled with details of suspicions, misunderstandings and hidden agendas between ZC management and the players. In some instances, these divisions were racially motivated; in others, they were personality-driven, but combined they had a detrimental effect on morale and performance.
"There are massive trust issues in Zimbabwe, and these go back to a time before independence. Independence didn't just flick a switch and make everything okay...." Butcher writes. "That there will be mistrust of each other's motives is the most natural thing in the world."
In particular, Butcher reveals how the actions of former convener of selectors Givemore Makoni during the 2012 World T20 led to the retirement of Ray Price the following year.
Makoni was appointed to the post in October 2011, 18 months into Butcher's tenure. Butcher admits only knowing Makoni "a little" but being "apprehensive" about his appointment, having previously dealt with him as a selector.
Butcher's reservations were confirmed shortly after, when the selectors, led by Makoni, unilaterally announced the Test squad to play New Zealand, without meeting with the coach or captain. The group initially excluded Chris Mpofu and Tatenda Taibu, who both ended up playing in the match at Butcher and Brendan Taylor's insistence. Butcher won that battle, but he would not win many more.
The next March, during the World T20, Butcher was invited to dinner with ZC's communications manager Lovemore Banda, Makoni, and assistant coach Steven Mangongo in Colombo. There, Banda told Butcher there was a perception that Butcher was marginalising Prosper Utseya.
"The point was a none too subtle warning there were 'people' who were disappointed by the fact that if I thought someone should be dropped from the team that person was always Prosper Utseya and that those people were beginning to think that there was an agenda of some sort against him and that I would be wise to think about the possible consequences of that perception," Butcher wrote.
The quartet went on to enjoy the evening, but once they moved to Hambantota, the venue of their first match, Butcher was made to understand why Banda had communicated that message.
The night before Zimbabwe's opener against Sri Lanka, the coaching staff agreed that Utseya would sit out the first match against Sri Lanka in favour of Graeme Cremer and Ray Price. When Makoni heard the decision, he accused Butcher of "trying to wreck Utseya's career, of racism and much more besides..."
Makoni insisted Utseya should play and Butcher realised "fighting it would cause the team many more problems than having Prosper in it," and so gave in. However, he then had to inform Price that he would be benched.
Price had spent the afternoon in the hotel pool, opposite where the meeting with Makoni and Butcher had taken place, and already had an idea of what was coming. "Although disappointed, recognised an impossible position the captain and I were in and took it pretty well."
Butcher thought the matter was over, but on the day of the match, Grant Flower, the then batting coach, refused to go to the ground because of Utseya's inclusion in the team. Butcher met with Flower and persuaded him otherwise, but the players had by then learnt of Flower's threat. Butcher's immediate task was to see how Utseya was handling it and he discovered the player was "not feeling great about being the reason for a coach refusing to go to the ground."
Utseya was among the better bowlers on the day, but Zimbabwe's performance was, in Butcher's words, "shambolic," and things were only going to get worse.
Zimbabwe did not play again until the next February, when they toured the West Indies, and as with any tour, the first job was to pick the squads. Butcher wanted Price "in my team in all formats," and expected Makoni to disagree, but at their meeting, "Makoni indicated he thought Price should be in the squad."
A few days later, Butcher saw the squad list without Price's name on it and called Makoni to clarify. Makoni said Price would not be travelling. Butcher gave Price the news, but instructed him not to do anything until Butcher had sorted it out, fearing Price would "retire on principle." Price, however, set up a meeting with Mangongo and Makoni in which he was "virtually forced to retire from ODIs to continue playing Tests." As a result, Price travelled as part of the Test squad but not the limited-overs team.
Price retired that July after being left out of the ODI squad to play India despite new coach Andy Waller wanting him in the group.
In the immediate aftermath of the squad selection for the 2013 tour of West Indies, Butcher noted with "sadness," that "turned to anger," reports in the Zimbabwean press detailing the argument with Makoni at the 2012 World T20. Utseya's omission was described as bordering on "the issue of colour," which Butcher took as an accusation against him of racism. He described it as his "darkest time" in Zimbabwe and it may have played a role in him opting not to reapply for his job later that year.
After Butcher's departure, Makoni was promoted to a managerial role in ZC in 2015 and Kenyon Ziehl was appointed selection convener. That may change in the next few weeks with ZC set to unveil yet another new selection panel.
Butcher compared that kind of constant change to a "revolving door spinning from all exits," caused by there not being "enough people everybody trusts". Caught in the middle of that, "a national team of mixed races is expected to just knuckle down and win cricket matches," which for Butcher is a big ask.
Despite the overarching problem in Zimbabwean cricket, Butcher left with the impression that, "trust between the races was alive and well among the younger generations," but warned that the spirit of goodwill should not be overshadowed by a political system which hardens attitudes.
ESPNcricinfo's review of Alan Butcher's book The Good Murungu: A Cricket Tale of the Unexpected will run on May 28.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent