Zimbabwe’s tough road ahead

Zimbabwe departs from the VB Series with their worst record in three outings in the Australian triangular. At least they managed one win in both 1994-95 and 2000-01. This time, a washout at the MCG was the best they could muster.

The sad thing is that Zimbabwe’s cricket team is not improving. The upper order batting collapsed on a regular basis and the bowlers suffered some extraordinary punishment at times, most notably at the hands of Adam Gilchrist in Hobart. Only Heath Streak, Stuart Carlisle, Grant Fowler and Sean Ervine can really hold their heads up as players of genuine international calibre.

There is no doubt that the Zimbabwe Cricket Union is placing a long-term investment into development and in addressing the historical racial imbalances within the sport in their country. In Zimbabwe’s last VB Series game, against India at the WACA on Tuesday, they fielded five non-white players in their eleven – Tatenda Taibu, Vusi Sibanda, Stuart Matsekinyeri, Blessing Mahwire and Dion Ebrahim.

While the ZCU has denied the existence of any racial quotas in their selection policy, there’s a definite leaning towards “affirmative action” and that is a good thing. It probably will not be all that long before Zimbabwe regularly fields teams on a regular basis in which the majority of players are black. It remains a matter that selectors persist only with players of quality in the national team.

Regardless of affirmative action or quotas, the Zimbabwean team in Australia was still without question the best available. The players who missed the trip played for Zimbabwe A against Namibia last month. Trevor Gripper, whose batting record in ODIs is poor, was their captain, and the other discarded internationals in the A team’s ranks included Gary Brent, Gavin Ewing, Charles Coventry Jr, Douglas Marillier and Hamilton Masakadza. Marillier has fallen from favour since his dramatic match-winning half-century at Faridabad in 2002, while Masakadza, a Test centurion on debut at seventeen in 2001, has had injury problems.

There has, of course, been a whole raft of talented players leave the game and/or leave the country over the past couple of years – Murray Goodwin, Neil Johnson and Andy Flower are just the tip of the iceberg. While Henry Olonga has fled to the UK and pursued a singing career, Brighton Watambwa has moved to the US, whom he will be representing in the ICC Six Nations Challenge in the UAE later this month. Departures whose cause can all be traced back, in one way or another, to Robert Mugabe’s gross mismanagement of his country.

As for the question of who Zimbabwe will be playing against, the ECB has taken the correct course of action and decided to seek advice from the ICC executive board, when it meets in Auckland next month. In Australia there seems to be no threat of political intervention over their May tour of Zimbabwe, with prime minister John Howard effectively washing his hands of the issue, saying repeatedly that it was a matter solely for Cricket Australia to decide.

Bangladesh’s tour begins next week, and the Greek Davis Cup team is in Harare playing Zimbabwe this weekend as well.

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