Mashonaland's selection farce January 31, 2006

Another dispute erodes Zimbabwe's future

Matabeleland's ten-wicket drubbing of Mashonaland at Harare Sports Club on Monday was - on paper - a superb result. The reality is that the victory was a hollow one.

Mashonaland, traditionally one of Zimbabwe's strongest sides, were a hastily-assembled group of willing, but limited and woefully inexperienced , youngsters. The reason for that is simple. Bruce Makovah, the province's head selector, refused to name players from the six big clubs which last year defied a provincial directive not to play any league matches.

The origins of the row are complex, but stem from dissatisfaction within the clubs with the stand taken by board members. It culminated in Makovah trying to physically break-up a match between two of the "rebel" clubs last October, when allegations were made that he and others racially abused and threatened players. Zimbabwe Cricket still does not appear to have looked into the incident.

Back to Monday's match. Not a single Mashonaland player who took the field in Harare had played List A or first-class cricket. Finding any information has proved a tough ask. Even seasoned cricket-watchers in Zimbabwe know almost nothing about them. One observer noted that overlooked in all the row is that by fielding the side they did, Mashonaland made a virtual mockery of provincial cricket.

This might seem to be yet another little local difficulty in a country with bigger issues, but it will impact on the national side. In the same fixture last season, Mashonaland fielded no fewer than eight internationals, including Tatenda Taibu, at the time Zimbabwe's captain.

Given that Zimbabwe will only be playing one-day cricket for the next year, the Fairweather provincial tournament is the only chance the selectors have to watch players in that format before they pick the squad to tour West Indies (assuming that even takes place). Even with the best available squad, Zimbabwe will struggle. But Makovah's action has potentially left an already sparsely populated cupboard even more threadbare.

The irony is that Makovah is also the newly-appointed head of national selection, so he knows what he is doing. That dual role also makes it highly unlikely that, unless sat on from above, he will relent and pick players he has blacklisted from his province for the national side.

In normal circumstances, the head of selection might expect to be called to account by his board. But in Zimbabwe, who you know is more important than what you do. Makovah is an ally of Peter Chingoka, the ZC chairman, and Ozias Bvute, the MD, so few expect this latest farce to even be commented on. It was telling that the Herald, Zimbabwe's state-controlled newspaper, did not mention the match.

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