Please don't let this be the death of Zimbabwe cricket

The ICC aims to grow the game in its member countries, but then takes decisions that instead kill it. Why?

Liam Brickhill
Liam Brickhill
The Zimbabwe team stand at the boundary during the final moments of the game, Australia v Zimbabwe, Group B, ICC World Twenty20, Cape Town, September 12, 2007

Zimbabwe's players stand arm in arm at the boundary line waiting to celebrate their win over Australia in the World T20 in 2007  •  AFP

What now, Zimbabwe? What would Dambudzo Marechera do? "When all else fails, don't take it in silence: scream like hell, scream like Jericho was tumbling down, serenaded by a brace of trombones, scream," wrote the quintessential Zimbabwean writer in The House of Hunger, the seminal work of the Zimbabwean condition. The Zimbabwean cricket community, players and fans alike, have let out a collective scream in the past 24 hours.
It's not the end of the world, but the ICC's announcement that Zimbabwe's spots at the men's and women's World T20 Qualifiers have been handed to Nigeria and Namibia effectively removes the raison d'être for the country's national squads. It's impossible to escape the feeling that this is an ending. That a door has been slammed shut.
The full wrath of the collective punishment meted out to Zimbabwean administrators, players and umpires alike is just one more thing that these people now have to deal with, along with everything else in this beguiling, broken nation.
Zimbabwe is a country of contradictions that will break your heart with its cruelty and mend it with its beauty. The malfeasance of its politics is beyond satire, the resilience of its citizens beyond reproach. It is both the best and the worst place in the world to live.
When the apocalypse hits, it will be months before anything actually changes in Zimbabwe. "Off-grid" is a fact of life rather than a luxury here. There are parts of the capital city, Harare, that have not seen running municipal water this millennium. Residents endure daily blackouts that last up to 18 hours at a time. There are shortages of medicine, fuel and banknotes, and inflation is out of control. Still, if you've got a bit of cash, it's a wonderful place to live. Head uptown and you might see a Lamborghini cruising up a potholed street, or queuing for fuel, like everyone else.
In 2017 there was a coup, joyfully received by the public, who took to the streets en masse to fist-bump soldiers on armoured vehicles and pose for selfies. In 2018, six people were shot dead on the same streets by the same soldiers when the celebration turned into protest.
This is the reality that Zimbabwean cricketers (now possibly ex-cricketers) live with. Although they are among the 1% in their country, their situation is almost unthinkable for most players in other Full Member nations, let alone the likes of David Warner or Virat Kohli at the top end of the game.
Kohli played 14 IPL games last season. For that, he was paid roughly US$2.5 million. That works out to about $178,000 per game. Last season Zimbabwean franchise cricketers were paid a daily stipend of $10. Under suspension, Zimbabwe will not be able to stage a domestic season this year and those meagre amounts will also be taken away, along with everything else, in a country where most are living hand to mouth. Already, no one has been paid since June. It's hard to envisage a better way to kill the game outright in Zimbabwe.
In fact, I couldn't have devised a better way if I'd sat down and planned it myself. It did not have to be like this. Ask Nepal. Ask the USA. While you're at it, it's also worth asking how many members there really are, especially in Asia, where governments aren't in some way involved in cricket administration.
There is not limited space in international cricket. There is not a shortage of money. But there is elitism, duplicitousness, wagon-circling and massive concentration of wealth
Closer to home, when Cricket South Africa chief executive Thabang Moroe was asked about the reasons for South Africa's restructure earlier this week, he remarked that one of the motivations for it was that the South African government's push to transform their sport had resulted in him fielding awkward questions and offering lengthy explanations at ICC chief executives' meetings as to why CSA should not themselves be suspended or penalised over transformation selection guidelines. The explanations were accepted and CSA, of course, wasn't suspended. Indeed, no other Full Member has ever been.
The ICC works with members "to grow the sport", reads the very first line of the About section on their website. "We will grow the sport by creating more opportunities for more people and nations to enjoy it," adds their vision statement. If someone could show me how making hundreds of people unemployed, making damn sure no Zimbabwean cricketers get paid for half a year, disinvesting millions of dollars from an already impoverished nation, and stopping a squad of trailblazing women from fighting their way into their first global tournament is growing cricket, I'd be happy to hear from you.
Yes, Zimbabwe's demise means that Namibia's women will be given a chance, and that Nigeria's rapid rise in Associate cricket continues apace. But the progress of one nation need not come at the expense of the other. There is not limited space in international cricket. There is not a shortage of money. But there is elitism, duplicitousness, wagon-circling and massive concentration of wealth. The story of our time, right?
If this is the end, then - friends, cricket fans, Zimbabweans - what are we left with? We've seen things you wouldn't believe. Olonga's triple-wicket miracle in the 1999 World Cup, which marks the exact moment, 20 years ago, that I fell in love with this game. Andy Flower's double (and Andy and Grant's double trouble). Eddo's hat-trick. Prosper Utseya's too, hanging them on the breeze and then dropping to the ground to revel in the moment with arms and legs in the air, like an upturned beetle.
And more. Utseya, again, shellacking Mitchell Starc miles over wide long-on, and holding the pose, to turn the Aussies over in an ODI for the first time since '83. And speaking of '83: Duncan Fletcher and his mulleted, flannelled pioneers. Taylor's rapturous last-ball six off Mashrafe at HSC back in '06. The whole squad arm in arm at the boundary's edge as Taylor took them home and the heavens opened at Newlands in '07. Streaky's outswinger. Strangy's wrong'un. Vusi Sibanda's cover drive, all clear lines and torque, like an Italian supercar. Hamilton's teenage ton. The parsimonious purity of a Traicos offbreak. Harare Sports Club in full voice. You had to be there. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Between times, there have been many, many bad decisions made in the running of Zimbabwean cricket over the years. Countless instances of government, politicians and politics twisting the sport to suit changing agendas, of self-interest overtaking unity among the players. In hindsight, the SRC's recent decisions, riding roughshod to sort it all out, don't look great either. And nor do the ICC's, which have heaped trouble on trouble.
It's time for everyone to start making good decisions. Zimbabwe's absence from the World T20 is not the end of the world. But expulsion will be.

Liam Brickhill is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent