Hope rises again for Zim cricket

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Sport -

OC­TO­BER in Zim­babwe is preg­nant with ex­pec­ta­tion. After the long, dry months of win­ter, the heat is back, with­out the rain - so, each af­ter­noon, eyes are drawn to the gath­er­ing clouds in an­tic­i­pa­tion that that might be the day the heav­ens fi­nally open.

Un­til the rains come, the air re­mains heavy with the ac­cu­mu­lated haze of win­ter’s fires, the gi­ant trees look tired from thirst and the heat be­comes op­pres­sive. By evening, the clouds have dis­si­pated, tak­ing hope with them. Maybe to­mor­row.

Zim­babwe cricket has built a sim­i­lar feel­ing of an­tic­i­pa­tion on a hand­ful of oc­ca­sions since 2009, when it first be­gan to stir from the tu­mult of the post-rebel pe­riod. But, each time, like an Oc­to­ber af­ter­noon, hope turned to more dis­ap­point­ment.

It is prob­a­bly bet­ter to whis­per it, then, but as Zim­babwe pre­pare to play their 100th Test on Satur­day, ex­pec­ta­tion is in the air once more.

There have been times in the past few years when ev­ery Test, no mat­ter how painful the re­sult, felt worth savour­ing for the sim­ple fact that they came along so rarely.

What, one might won­der, are the odds of Zim­babwe play­ing an­other 100 at the cur­rent rate, in the cur­rent en­vi­ron­ment?

Those odds will al­ways be de­ter­mined by hap­pen­ings be­yond the bound­ary, which too freely dic­tate the rise and (mostly) fall of Zim­babwe’s on-field for­tunes.

Yet, at least now, there are pos­i­tive move­ments that could bring im­prove­ment to those play­ing the game.

Heath Streak has come in as head coach, adding sta­bil­ity after a chaotic few months in which the in­ex­pe­ri­enced Makhaya Ntini was thrown in at the deep end, prob­a­bly un­fairly.

More sig­nif­i­cantly, hav­ing now had sev­eral months to get his teeth into his new ad­min­is­tra­tive roles, Tatenda Taibu feels that the wheels are start­ing to turn.

Break­ing away from an um­pire’s meet­ing de­liv­ered by for­mer Zim­babwe in­ter­na­tional and ICC match ref­eree Andy Py­croft on Thurs­day morn­ing, Taibu con­firmed that the do­mes­tic sea­son is due to start on Novem­ber 22 and should run through to Au­gust.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, as many as 40 con­tracts are ex­pected to be of­fered, rang­ing from one to three years.

This is a ma­jor im­prove­ment on the pal­try six-month con­tracts that do­mes­tic crick­eters have pre­vi­ously been of­fered for a piti­fully short first-class sea­son.

Equally im­por­tant has been the in­creas­ing num­ber of fix­tures en­joyed by the Zim­babwe A team, who have hosted South Africa A and Pak­istan A in re­cent months.

Those tours, along with a visit by a Sri Lankan De­vel­op­ment Emerg­ing side in July, have be­gun to un­earth new tal­ent that Streak has promised to make use of.

Fi­nally, chal­lengers are emerg­ing to the old faces in the Zim­babwe side, who have main­tained their places be­cause of a lack of al­ter­na­tives.

Fast bowler Carl Mumba and top-or­der bats­man Tari­sai Musakanda could make their in­ter­na­tional de­buts in the two-Test se­ries against Sri Lanka after im­press­ing for Zim­babwe A.

“When I took on the job, I said that I wanted to push some of the young­sters, but I also said that I wanted to cre­ate a plat­form for young guys to show­case them­selves,” said Streak.

“Be­fore, when you didn’t make the na­tional side there was noth­ing be­low that, other than do­mes­tic cricket, or there were gaps of no cricket, which made it dif­fi­cult for guys to get back in the side or show­case their abil­ity.

“So that’s def­i­nitely some­thing I’m go­ing to cre­ate, and I’m also look­ing at suc­ces­sion plan­ning, and where we see gaps and where we see young­sters, that will be able to fill them. That will re­flect in con­tracts,cts, in se­lec­tions and in age-group teams - work­ing out what we need to keep sup­port­ing the na­tional team.”

How­ever, as is al­ways the casee for Zim­babwe, a lack of con­ti­nu­ity in Tests means that they must show im­prove­ment now.

Their next Test as­sign­ment, as thingsngs stand, is a tour of Sri Lanka next June, mean­ing their 100th and 101st Tests could be their last chance to make ann im­pres­sion for eight months.

The Sri Lanka team that has trav­elledelled to Zim­babwe is young and raw, but by June they couldld re­sem­ble a wis­ened old group of pros by Zim­babwe stan­dard­san­dards - es­pe­cially if they achieve their ob­jec­tives on this tour.

“It’s quite an ex­cit­ing time for us, be­causeecause it is very much a re­build­ing time, but be­caus­ese of in­juries we’re forced to ac­cel­er­ate that pro­cessss and play some young guys,” coach Gra­ham For­dord said.

“Some of the young chaps that will play have been in and around the Test squad­uad for the last while but haven’t got much game ame time. This is a chance for them to showow what they can do and for us to as­sessss them fur­ther, and hope­fully they’lll take that op­por­tu­nity.

“We do have a re­ally tough se­ries com­ing up in South Africa over the Christ­mas pe­riod, so it’s im­por­tant that we keep try­ing to make progress. When we played Eng­land in Eng­land we got beaten but the key was to make progress and I think we did im­prove along the way.

“We cer­tainly im­proved against Aus­tralia, and we’re go­ing to need to keep im­prov­ing if we’re go­ing to com­pete against South Africa in South Africa.”

Such a sched­ule is the envy of Zim­babwe’s crick­eters, who have played just six Tests in three years - as many as Sri Lanka have played this year alone. Streak feels that if they are to make im­me­di­ate im­prove­ment, a new cul­ture is re­quired.

“Ob­vi­ously it’s still very early in my ten­ure, but what I hope peo­ple will be able to see [in this se­ries] is a change in mind­set,” Streak said.

“I want to en­cour­age the guys not to be scared of los­ing and not to like los­ing. In the past we had this mind­set where we’re just happy to be able to com­pete and not em­bar­rass our­selves at this level. And as a group we’ve spo­ken about it and de­cided we’re not happy to do that any­more. We’ve got to take things for­ward.”

Of course, as has been the case for so long in Zim­babwe, events away from the field will de­ter­mine how long progress on it may last.

With Zim­babwe Cricket car­ry­ing a $19m debt and no fresh in­come streams on the hori­zon, it is dif­fi­cult to see how they can af­ford a big­ger and bet­ter do­mes­tic sys­tem, more con­tracts, a pro­posed new academy and more tours for the A team.

ZC’s fi­nances have been in such dis­ar­ray that, nearly 10 months after the end of their fi­nan­cial year, they are still to have an au­dit signed off - a sit­u­a­tion that has put them at odds with the ICC’s new re­quire­ments.

In the­ory, there is much to be pos­i­tive about. But un­til the is­sues of fi­nance and ad­min­is­tra­tion are taken care of, the game in Zim­babwe will con­tinue to feel like an­other hot af­ter­noon in Harare, when the rain just won’t come. — ESPNCricinfo

Heath Streak

Tatenda Taibu

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