Manicaland report: the national malady

As serious cricket has yet to get underway in Manicaland, all eyes in recent weeks have been on the dismal performances of the national side in their ODI series against South Africa and England. New coach in waiting Geeff Marsh must be wondering what he let himself in for.

Andy Flower excluded - this team plays worse and worse each time. England coach and former Zimbabwe captain Duncan Fletcher must be amazed as he sits in the new multi-million dollar facilities at Harare Sports Club and watches this once proud unit perform like schoolboys. Certainly his leadership qualities and ability to inspire match-winning performances from Zimbabwe players in the eighties would be welcome right now.

Excuses for Zimbabwe cricket no longer wash. The problems facing Zimbabwean cricket - political and otherwise - apply equally to all sectors of this oppressed country.

The captain appears to have lost confidence. Lengthy field-placement consultations and indecisive drift during the frequent leather chases characterize his leadership. By contrast Alistair Campbell, when forced into duty after Streak's injury in the third game, injected new urgency and assurance into a close fought contest. Delightful man that Heath Streak is, it may be time to acknowledge that few fast bowlers make good captains and take steps to resurrect both his own and the team's fortunes.

The rest of team Zimbabwe's problems may be more difficult to fix. Clearly selection changes need to be made. It is impossible to continue arguing the case for the experienced non-performers when a new totally inexperienced side could hardly do worse. Whatever the problems, these oldies cannot be guaranteed a living indefinitely whilst Zimbabwe is deleted off the world computer rankings. If we are to believe Dirk Viljoen's writings in the Telegraph, the players were desperate for this English tour not to be cancelled. If motivation then is not the problem, perhaps skills are. How many future visits can we expect when visiting teams torch us so effortlessly in our own front yard?

It was once argued that as the national team had created the wealth associated with television and advertising income, they deserved the lion's share of the payout. But that was then. These highly paid professionals are currently in danger of writing themselves out of the script after a series of second-league performances.

In a recent interview on South African television Barry Richards rated the Bangladesh Test team lower than his son's grade side in Perth, Western Australia. He wasn't much more complimentary about Zimbabwe. The point he was making was that if the ICC continued to award Test status to undeserving countries and then force the top nations to play meaningless series with them, the television market would disappear. Already rumours abound on the sub-continent of television moguls plotting to lure elite players away from the humdrum of conventional cricket into Super-Test circuses.

The irony as far as Zimbabwe is concerned is that the wealth the game has generated has built new facilities at Harare Sports Club to rival the best, yet last weekend's ODIs were played in front of worryingly diminished crowds.