Rocks franchise to be eroded
Zimbabwe's Masvingo cricket franchise, the Southern Rocks, are expected to be disbanded when Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) announces a revamped domestic structure. As part of an effort to cut costs, the country's local game will likely be contested between four franchises, not the current five, from next season with the Rocks the victim of the streamlining.
The Daily News reported that a memo from ZC has been circulated to the franchises informing them of the changes. They quoted a paragraph from the document which indicated the culling of the franchise will come as part of advice from the ICC. Dave Richardson, the ICC CEO, visited Zimbabwe early last month as part of the ongoing efforts by the global body to assist ZC in coming out of financial crisis.
"The visit by the ICC CEO was pursuant to the ICC' s decision to work with ZC to reduce its existing cost and base and come up with a business plan which included, inter alia, reviewing the structure of the domestic cricket including the number of professional cricketers supported by ZC and the number of franchises," read the document.
Cutting down the number of franchises playing in Zimbabwe has long been a recommendation of those who have been involved with the game, including former Mid-West Rhinos coach Jason Gillespie and former national bowling coach Heath Streak. Both believed it was not sustainable for ZC to support five teams, which they have had in operation since the 2009-10. Then Zimbabwe overhauled their domestic structure after receiving substantial sponsors from, among others, Stanbic Bank.
The cash injection meant Zimbabwe could contract international players and coaches and was one of the reasons they established a franchise in Masvingo. They also identified the area as a place where they could grow the game. Monte Lynch, the former England player, coached the Rocks for the first two seasons.
They reached the semi-finals of the fifty-over competition in their first season and won the tournament in the second year. They did not have as much success in the twenty-over tournament, where they finished last and third, or the first-class game. Despite middling performances in the longest format, the Rocks produced players who would go on to represent Zimbabwe, most notably Brian Vitori, the left-arm quick.
ZC's money dried up after the first two seasons of franchise cricket and they lost most of their international component as a result. However, they kept the franchise system going and even tried to make it more competitive by sending players and coaches to the teams they thought needed them the most. Elton Chigumbura and the Ervine brothers are part of the Rocks and at the start of the 2012-13, Dave Houghton was appointed their coach.
His tenure lasted only a summer as Zimbabwe's financial situation worsened. Weeks before the current season kicked off, there was uncertainty over what the franchise's allocations would be and they could not contract players or coaches as a result. The season was initially supposed to start in November but was delayed for a month while logistics were sorted out.
When it eventually got underway, it was not a smooth ride. Two weeks into the season, the players went on strike to protest unpaid salaries. There was no cricket played in Zimbabwe between mid-December and early February as a result. Zimbabwe have since asked the ICC for a loan, which has been granted, in order to get their cricket going again.
Domestic tournaments restarted in the last week of February and are ongoing but there is evidence of cost-cutting already. In order to save on accommodation costs, ZC cancelled the rest day between the four-day and one-day matches, which are now played back to back.
The Rocks are at the bottom of the first-class points table and have lost three of their matches while drawing two others. They are on top of the fifty-over competition table and have won four of their six matches.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent