On the eve of Zimbabwe's return to Test cricket, senior wicketkeeper batsman Tatenda Taibu has slammed the country's administration for not doing enough for the game. Taibu said that a lack of funds and poor professional structures are crippling cricket in the country.
The end of an almost six-year long self-imposed exile from Test cricket, the introduction of a franchise system and the return of many former players such as Heath Streak and Grant Flower to the coaching structures had many thinking that transformation was in the air. Taibu has knocked that notion, saying that the only reason the game survives in the country is because of the commitment of its players.
"I don't think much has changed really, the administration is still struggling to run cricket in the country well," Taibu said candidly. "For example, the guys haven't been paid their match fees from August last year up to now. At the moment, I am sitting here without a contract, no one has got a contract; those are all things that the administration is struggling to deal with."
Although the franchises have been able to contract and pay players, the issue of central contracts has never been clarified or resolved. All players who play for Zimbabwe must be contracted to a franchise, which means they earn some form of income, but Taibu indicated that may just be a form of bandaging a wound that really needs surgery. "When you walk around and you see a house that's painted well, you will think that house is really standing strong but if does not have a strong foundation, it will fall down one day or another," he said. "Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) has just painted a house that's about to fall."
Taibu said the players have tried to seek certainty from ZC but that, personally, he had kept a distance from the subject because of his reputation as a pot-stirrer. "It's hard for me as a player with the history that I've got in Zimbabwe cricket to go up and mention these things," he said. "We've tried to go through the right structures, the captain and the manager but nothing has been done to date."
Taibu resigned from the captaincy in November 2005 in controversial fashion after speaking out about the way cricket was being run and spent time living in Namibia, Bangladesh and South Africa before coming home in 2007.
He vowed not to speak about administrative issues again but now, Taibu has broken his silence and said he is no afraid of the repercussions. Instead, he feels it his responsibility, as the senior statesman of the side, to be the mouthpiece for some of the juniors. "I like telling the truth, I know most of the other guys are scared of being targeted and they won't be able to come out and say it in the open but I am not scared of being targeted. I think it's important that I can stand up for the younger guys who don't have a voice."
With such discontent bubbling under the surface of a historic comeback into the game, it's difficult to see what keeps the players motivated. Taibu explained that it was the patriotism and passion in the ranks, and that he is proud to be involved with men of such character. "I can't fault the coaching staff, they've worked really hard and I can't fault the guys. They come in day in and day out but they are not getting much support from the administration unfortunately," he said. "To see the guys running in and bowling and hitting a lot of balls in the nets it really shows that the guys have got the country at heart. It is two days before a Test match and no one has got a contract, no one knows what we will get paid, but the guys love their country and they can't see cricket drop like that."
As much as there is strife in Zimbabwe cricket, there is also pride and the return to the game's premier format is something the players are cherishing. "It will be sad to see Zimbabwe cricket die, after all the people that have worked hard for us to get Test cricket back, I think it will be a waste if we let it die."
Taibu believes the game is still very much alive and the upcoming Test matches, against Bangladesh, Pakistan and New Zealand, will only help cricket thrive in spite of its structures. "When you play Test cricket, you improve faster," he said. "As a batsman you spend more time at the crease, as a bowler you learn how to get people out, how to be disciplined and when to attack and when not to."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent