The Zimbabwe Cricket Academy in the Highlands suburb of Harare was destroyed by fire late last night.
An eyewitness who visited the site this morning said that the building had been burnt to the ground and was no more than a smouldering ruin. The practice wickets and nets were unharmed, but the pavilion and administrative buildings had been destroyed. The changing-rooms were also affected, and it is thought that a number of players have lost all their kit in the blaze.
Ozias Bvute, the board's managing director, said that Mark Vermelen, the former Zimbabwe Test batsman, was helping police with their inquiries. "Someone was seen driving away from the scene of the fire," Bvute told Reuters. "I understand he [Vermeulen] has been taken in for questioning by the police in connection with the fire."
"He's been detained since yesterday on charges of arson," Vermeulen's brother Roland told AFP. "We don't know at the moment where they are holding him ... but we are trying our best to get him out and sort matters while he is outside. Police cells are not the best place to be." The police have also seized a family car which Vermeulen is alleged to have driven to the academy, said his father.
Andrew Phiri, Harare police spokesman, confirmed Vermeulen's arrest. "He is a suspect in connection with the arson attack at the cricket academy," he said. The 27-year-old Vermeulen, who played the last of his eight Tests in 2004, recently returned to Zimbabwe after a stint playing league cricket in England where he was slapped with a lengthy ban for throwing a ball at spectators.
The Academy, which was opened in 1999, was built entirely with money raised by Gwynn Jones and Dave Houghton. It was praised by many visiting sides, and Brian Lara said it was one of the best facilities he had seen, describing it as simple but very effective.
It has also emerged that there was a blaze in the Zimbabwe Cricket boardroom at the Harare Sports Club, which is on a separate site to the Academy. The local emergency services responded swiftly and managed to extinguish the fire just after it had burnt the curtains and part of the carpet in the room.
"The coincidence is too much that we can have the fires on consecutive days on ZC premises," said Bvute. "Investigations are underway and if these fires are acts of arson then we are confident that the police will apprehend the person or persons behind them."