Peter Chingoka: absentee spectator
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The Logan Cup is done and dusted and Zimbabwe Cricket can breathe a sigh of relief. Another hurdle has been cleared in its bid to resume playing Test cricket by the end of the year.
While the suspension from Tests is always touted as being at the board's request, some conditions were laid down by the ICC which had to be met before they could be readmitted. One was that they had a fully functioning domestic programme, a requirement that they failed to achieve in 2006. Another must-have was an all-inclusive administration, but while that is further away than ever from happening, it's a much tougher one to disprove.
So, after being shelved through neglect last season, the Logan Cup took place, ticking one of the ICC's must-have boxes in the process, but did so in virtual secrecy. And despite matches being free to anyone to watch, hardly anyone bothered.
The reason for that are simple and much of the blame lies with Zimbabwe Cricket. Despite boasting a media department bigger than those of most other Full Member boards, it failed to do anything to promote the competition, to the extent that it only saw fit to announce the schedule for the tournament on the first day of the first round of matches. It then compounded the mess by failing to provide any scorecards to the media, with requests from many areas, including the ICC, falling on stony ground.
With US$11.5 million pouring into the board's coffers, is it unfair to ask just what the money is going to be used for if not to promote the country's major first-class tournament?
Its own website coughed and spluttered into life at the start of the competition, then disappeared and was out of action for more than a fortnight, before returning for the final rounds. In the end, the only reliable scorecards came from Nairobi where Cricket Kenya was receiving daily updates of its team's progress.
The other reason for the lack of spectators was the political situation inside the country. With inflation now topping 3000% - and climbing daily - and unemployment over 80%, cricket is not a priority for most people.
There is also the issue of teams. Last year Zimbabwe Cricket scrapped the old provincial set-up and created new entities. The main reason for this seemed to be to enable ZC to eliminate the last vestiges of opposition within the regions and fill the new bodies with people loyal to the government-appointed chairman, Peter Chingoka.
However, while it has been used to show that the game's grassroots are strong, that's not the reality. Take, for example, Easterns, based around Mutare. Almost all the players who turned out for them are based in and/or from Harare . They travel to and from Mutare to play. The net result, as one local cricketer told Cricinfo, was that "no one was really interested, not even the players who couldn't make it into the provincial squads". He added that the local guys "were there to make up the numbers and sit out games".
Some former players who did watch told me that the standards were lower than they had ever been
There were also the all-too-familiar internal disputes, of which Northerns were the biggest losers. It was the old story. A regional selector with agendas and angles
refusing to pick players for a variety of reasons, many unconnected with the game. The net result was that a team which should have been the strongest was the tournament's whipping boys.
Then there was the standard. The presence of a Kenya Select side, and their poor record, gave many the opportunity to argue that standards in Zimbabwe were on the up. It did nothing of the sort. Kenya were not good, agreed, but few of them had any experience of four-day cricket, and it showed. They flagged in the field and failed to press home advantages. They learned as they went along, but their failure was only partially down to the strength of their opponents.
Some former players who did watch told me that the standards were lower than they had ever been. One pointed out that if Graeme Cremer, who until the Logan Cup had a first-class career average of 7.59 in 41 innings, could make 171 then something was very wrong. The pitches were okay in the two main centres but poor away from them. It's hard to get parts for the machinery, petrol for mowers and money for fertaliser, so it's hardly surprising. As a result, pitches deteriorated and spinners thrived.
The interest in the domestic game was underlined by the Zimbabwe A match against Kenya last weekend at Harare Sports Club. At the post-match presentations not one senior Zimbabwe Cricket official was in attendance. Given how little cricket there is inside the country and how they managed to find time to eat, drink and be merry at the ICC's expense during the World Cup in the Caribbean, was it too much to expect them to traipse down to the HSC for an hour?
As one provincial player said to me, it rather underlined the fact that the staging of the tournament was an exercise in cosmetics rather than cricket. Zimbabwe Cricket jumped the hurdle. That's all that seemed to matter to those running the game.
Steven Price is a freelance journalist based in Harare