Zimbabwe's professional cricketers have issued a statement which slams the conduct of the board, accusing it of being "at best incompetent, and at worst, a bully". Coming on the eve of Zimbabwe Cricket's AGM in Bulawayo tomorrow and the first Test against India on Tuesday, it represents a embarrassing slap in the face for Zimbabwe Cricket. It also rubbishes the official line that there is no disharmony between players and board.
While the players made it clear that they were not prepared to go on strike, explaining that doing so would not be in the interests of the game inside Zimbabwe, the tone and length of the statement left no doubt that they have no faith in the senior administrators.
At the heart of their anger are the unilaterally-imposed performance-related contracts announced by the board last week and a resulting newspaper article purporting to reveal the seemingly high remuneration packages on offer. The players clearly feel that the article was planted by the board and that the figures were deliberately misleading. Clive Field, the players' representative said: "ZC appear content to use the media to sensationalize the sensitive issue of remuneration."
They are also livid that despite having several months to negotiate and come up with a mutually-agreed deal, the board has implemented something which was not discussed at very short notice.
Only three players - Heath Streak, Tatenda Taibu and Andy Blignaut - were offered long-term deals, while the others were put on performance-related short-term contracts which made no allowance for seniority. The 12-month packages on offer made no allowance for the hyperinflation prevalent inside Zimbabwe, and ZC refused to link the payments to the reserve bank rate.
Already upset at the way this was handled, ZC then announced on the eve of an ODI against India that the offer to three players - Stuart Carlisle, Barney Rogers and Neil Ferreira - had been withdrawn and no reasons were given. The players continued with the match but a request for more information remains unanswered.
"Our position is that this directly and adversely impacts player confidence," Field said."It reveals an administration which is at best incompetent, and at worst, a bully. In the continued absence of sound reasons from ZC, such action amounts to intimidation of the player body."
As things stand, the contracts remain unaccepted by the players, who said they are "playing on trust". ZC has said that new contracts will be supplied by September 14, but the impression is that the players have little faith that this promise will be answered.
The sums on offer also differ wildly from those claimed by ZC - according to Field, match fees are now 25% of what was on offer six months ago in South Africa. Furthermore, Zimbabwe's draconian tax rates seriously erode the sums, and the lack of international cricket played by Zimbabwe means that the potential amounts quoted are almost certainly not likely to be achieved. ZC, they claimed, had also removed perks such as vehicles, DSTV and BUPA, all of which were in place on the 2004-05 contracts.
Damningly, the players concluded by asking whether the administration of ZC had also been cut. "If we as players are being told to tighten our belts, what is ZC itself as an administration doing in the same vein?" Field asked."What salaries are being paid by ZC to themselves? If it is deemed by ZC to be in the public interest to splash players salaries around the press, then presumably they have no objection announcing their own? We look forward to receiving details.
"We are concerned that ZC should be held accountable for a set of performance criteria which measure its revenues and management of its finances in a transparent and responsible manner for the betterment of the game."