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A last hope for salvation

The news that Zimbabwe Cricket's interim board has decided to suspend itself from Test cricket is the first sensible move that it has made in a long time

Peter Chingoka can do one more thing to help Zimbabwe cricket - get out © Getty Images
The news that Zimbabwe Cricket's interim board has decided to suspend itself from Test cricket is the first sensible move that it has made in a long time. But having said that, it had backed itself so far into a dark and lonely corner, there were few other options left available.
Make no mistake, the brains behind today's announcement was not Peter Chingoka, the board's increasingly isolated and discredited chairman. It was the ICC pairing of Ehsan Mani and Malcolm Speed.
Mani and Speed held private talks with Chingoka in Karachi last week. Although a bland media release did not indicate that anything particularly exciting had resulted, it appears that Chingoka was given a lifeline to buy his country time, much as ZC were given in 2004 at the time of the first player rebellion.
The alternatives were dire for Zimbabwe and embarrassing for the ICC. Despite Chingoka's bluster, it was unlikely that Zimbabwe could have raised a side to tour the Caribbean capable of taking a Test match beyond two days. It is quite possible that other boards added to the pressure by making it clear that playing Zimbabwe was a financial disaster in the making they would no longer entertain.
By continuing to play one-day cricket, Zimbabwe will keep themselves in the shop window - albeit, in a dusty corner of it - and allow their players the international exposure they have to have to be encouraged to continue. Most importantly, the potential damage and embarrassment that can result from an ODI is less than in a Test where there is no hiding place for mediocrity.
There are sure to be conditions. The ICC will not allow the cavalier dismissal of board members and administrators on racial grounds, and there will be a close examination of the accounts which Chingoka's opponents claim have been milked dry. Furthermore, Zimbabwe Cricket will have to be far more open and honest than has been the case in the last three years.
Given luck, courage, encouragement and strong leadership, then this gives Zimbabwe their last chance to survive in mainstream international cricket. But much will depend on the Mugabe government who, after all, pull all the strings in the country. Too much involvement from them could undo any other progress.
With regards to the board's leadership, do not expect Chingoka and his sidekick Ozias Bvute to survive long. The talk in African cricket circles towards the end of last year was that he was looking for a dignified exit, and as recently as last week he was indicating in private that he had had enough. It's too late to salvage his reputation, but if this suspension is to work he must step down. He is distrusted by players and stakeholders inside the country, and his remaining presence is a serious block to real progress.
The coming months will tell, but in the meantime Speed and Mani should be congratulated on using common sense. They might have done no more than buy Zimbabwe time, but if this move does fail, no-one can accuse them of not trying.

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo