Board blames players as Brown removed as coach
Zimbabwe Cricket has denied that Robin Brown was sacked as coach, insisting that his contract was up at the end of July and had not been renewed.
The net result is that Zimbabwe now have to look for their third coach in a year, but few doubt that Brown has paid the price for not doing as influential figures inside the board demanded.
Rumours of heated exchanges between Brown and senior ZC officials over selection have been circulating for some time. Almost inevitably, race is at the heart of the dispute, with Brown accused of favouring white players by elements inside ZC who are pressing for more black cricketers in the side.
What is clear is that Brown did not pay for bad results. Early in his tenure, Zimbabwe beat Australia in the World Twenty20, and while they failed to win subsequent one-day internationals, performances had been marked better than under his predecessor, Kevin Curran. Zimbabwe's last international outing was in February.
Brown was seen as a calming buffer between players and board at a time the relationship between the two was poor. The exodus of experienced cricketers has continued, however, and the actions of board officials has been at the heart of that.
Although no official statement was made, a carefully-leaked source looked to blame the players. "The issue is his bad working relationship with the players," the source told the Independent. "He also treats players differently. We decided were not going anywhere with him."
That was denied by one player speaking to the same newspaper. "We were used as smokescreen. It's not fair on the players and on ZC itself because they keep being as projected as being weak and succumbing to player power.
"There were no major issues with Robin in the players' camp. After all, it's not the players' prerogative to chose who they want as coach. If there were issues with Robin it wouldn't be justified because we've had the same problems with the last three coaches and what has changed? The common denominator here has been the players. Player power is not desirable in a situation as ours where we have a very weak international team."
It is hard to see where Zimbabwe look for Brown's replacement. No credible international figure would want to take charge of a side which plays increasingly rarely and be subjected to pressure from the board. The shredded economic and social climate inside the country is almost certain to deter almost all foreigners who might otherwise have still been tempted.
Few experienced coaches remain inside the country, and the Independent suggested that former Under-19 coach Walter Chawaguta was being lined up to replace Brown. He had been in the frame when Curran was appointed in 2005, and is regarded as a promising young coach, although he lacks experience both in that capacity and as a player. Whether he has what it takes to stem the decline of the national team, or to stand up to powerful influences such as ZC managing director Ozias Bvute, is also a major uncertainty.
Steven Price is a freelance journalist based in Harare