Zimbabwe crisis July 15, 2004

Red Lions tour kicks off

Wisden Cricinfo staff

Olonga: 'Heath dug himself a hole and they jumped in with him' © Getty Images

Henry Olonga, who staged a black armband protest mourning the "death of democracy" in Zimbabwe at the World Cup last year, is surprisingly unenthusiastic about the current tour of the Zimbabwean rebel players, who have reformed as a team called the Red Lions.

The team yesterday played the first match of their three-week tour, against a Lashings XI, which Olonga was part of, at Wimbledon cricket club. The game ended in a tie off the last ball.

"I don't endorse or support the tour, I just think it's a great way for them to stick together," Olonga told BBC Sport. "A lot of them have lost their careers and it's a very uncertain time for them."

"There could have been different ways of showing their solidarity for Heath in a way that didn't result in drastic action being taken against them," he continued. "They ended up being in breach of contract, which gave the ZCU every right to fire them. Heath dug himself a hole and they jumped in with him."

However, Olonga agrees with the rebel players' complaint about the politicisation of cricket in Zimbabwe, saying: "The administrators of the ZCU are for all intents and purposes working along lines one can deem to be political. The kinds of decisions they're making don't make sense.

"If they wanted the best team to be on the field they wouldn't have sacked all these players and the kind of results the team has turned in of late wouldn't have happened."

Olonga added that the current crisis in cricket is only "a small part of the jigsaw puzzle" of Zimbabwe's many problems. He believes one solution to these problems would be "the due process of democracy being allowed to prevail - free and fair elections for a start.

"If those fall into place everything else does - the independence of the judiciary, freedom of speech and the media, opening up the airwaves."

All the players on the Red Lions team are white, although Stuart Carlisle, who captained the team yesterday, explained: "Three or four black players were interested in joining us a couple of months ago but the ZCU were quick to put pressure on them."

Carlisle added that he thinks the rebel players could be playing for the national side by next year, but only if the arbitration process put in place by the ICC is successful.

"This is a trial period for us. If arbitration doesn't come through, or isn't effective, we've got other players at home," he added. "We could certainly play some of the first-class sides, some counties and state sides, if they were interested."