The Logan Cup season in Zimbabwe is over for 2003-04 - but nobody is sure yet which team has won it ... and worse, nobody seems to care very much. Such is the sorry state of Zimbabwe cricket these days. In a day or two the boffins at the Zimbabwe Cricket Union headquarters will have a look at the scorecards and work out a final points table. Mashonaland, Matabeleland and Midlands all have three victories from six matches, so bonus points - and possibly penalty points - will settle the issue.
Provincial teams don't mean a great deal any longer, though, as the national selectors have the final say in the provincial teams and pack them with Harare players, mostly from the black club Takashinga, rather than allow the other provinces to develop local talent. This means that many players do not identify with the team they happen to be playing for, and local supporters find it less easy to identify with their teams. So nobody seems terribly interested in who actually won the tournament.
Had Midlands beaten Mashonaland in the final round, they would have won the Logan Cup outright. Their local players Sean Ervine and Travis Friend are a powerful force in inter-provincial cricket, and they are also bolstered by long-standing imports in Craig Wishart and Raymond Price. Their former captain Douglas Marillier was another valued import, but he left Zimbabwe cricket at the end of March, disillusioned and angry, like so many before him.
But the takeover of Zimbabwe cricket by Robert Mugabe's minion Ozias Bvute, aided reportedly by the confrontational selector Maqsood Ebrahim (the son of match referee Justice Ahmed, but not related to the current batsman Dion), shattered the Midlands side. Ervine, Friend, Price and Wishart were in Harare in support of Heath Streak for critical discussions with the ZCU's managing director Vince Hogg, who gave them permission to miss the match - only for Bvute subsequently to overrule Hogg and sack the players on the pretext of failing to play in the match.
Midlands were therefore forced to play without a single international or Zimbabwe A player in their side, making a mockery of first-class cricket - just as Mugabe's brave new Zimbabwe team look likely to make a mockery of Test cricket later this month against Sri Lanka. Thirdand fourth-league club players were drafted into the team: in fact all four Logan Cup teams carried passengers simply to make up the numbers.
Maiden centuries were on offer for batsmen with a little experience. Erick Chauluka, Johnson Marumisa and Tafadzwa Mufambisi all scored theirs for Mashonaland at Kwekwe, while in the second innings Tatenda Taibu declared his team's innings closed at 460 for 3 with himself on a career-best 175 - most unselfishly, as there was enough time for him to go on to 300 if he had wanted.
Midlands subsided twice to lose by 329 runs, but at least Craig Ervine, Sean's younger brother, was able to make his own maiden century, after a fifty in the first innings. Taibu took the bowling honours with 8 for 43 (no, it's not a misprint) in the second innings after keeping wicket in the first. He might need to do quite a lot of bowling against Sri Lanka, too.
At Mutare, there was a pleasant, fluctuating match between Manicaland and Matabeleland. The one white player in the match, Greg Strydom of Matabeleland, scored a century in each innings; his 128 in the first innings came off 78 balls and included ten sixes, and he hit a further six sixes in his second-innings 104, scored off a more sedate 90 balls. He has talent and temperament, but in a brief career has rarely been tested against international-quality bowling. But what chance has a white man in Mugabe's new cricket order, especially one with a bit of a disciplinary record behind him?
Manicaland led by 136 on first innings, thanks to a dedicated century from Norbert Manyande, opening the innings for the first time, and keeping wicket for the first time too. He laid the base for a sparkling 204 from Andre Some, the first time he had passed 50 in first-class cricket. But Manicaland's nerve faltered after they were set 224 to win, although Prosper Utseya kept it close with a fine fighting innings of 77, before he was the last man out.
Andre Some's older brother Leon was the most successful bowler of the match, taking eight wickets with his medium-pacers. It was an interesting match played in good spirit - but first-class cricket it was not, despite what the record books will say. If the ICC continues to fiddle like Nero when Rome burned, it will find Zimbabwe cricket a major embarrassment in the very near future.