Zim cricket needs help

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Sport -

AS Zim­babwe shim­mied to­wards their latest de­feat in the sec­ond Test against Sri Lanka, thoughts turned to that age-old ques­tion: what are the in­gre­di­ents for an ef­fec­tive turnaround for Zim­babwe cricket?

A lot has changed over the last 15 months. A new board and a new chair­man have taken charge. The back­room staff at the na­tional level have all changed, and there is a new head coach now in Heath Streak.

Ta­tenda Taibu has taken over as the con­venor of se­lec­tors, and has the re­spon­si­bil­ity of set­ting up a new struc­ture be­low the na­tional team.

There are some promis­ing new play­ers com­ing through. What’s more, Streak has in­fused pos­i­tiv­ity into a group of play­ers that had for some time seen sur­vival as their only goal.

Fur­ther evolution is in the pipe­line. Last sea­son’s Lo­gan Cup, the coun­try’s first-class com­pe­ti­tion, com­prised just six rounds, with the na­tional play­ers miss­ing most of them.

Al­though the fix­tures of the up­com­ing sea­son are awaited, the num­ber of matches are ex­pected to dou­ble. The four first-class prov­inces that will con­test the Lo­gan Cup will also be sup­ple­mented by five As­so­ciate prov­inces who will make up a feeder league.

One might look at all this and won­der what else is to be done to im­prove a Test team that has now failed to take 20 wick­ets in a match in eight games, and has con­ceded more than 500 runs in the first in­nings of its last five Tests.

An ob­vi­ous an­swer is to en­tice play­ers who have left — such as Bren­dan Tay­lor, Kyle Jarvis and Solomon Mire —back into the fold, but that may not hap­pen in the short term.

A less ob­vi­ous one is to pro­vide bet­ter sup­port for the play­ers they’ve got. Streak pointed out that, as a coach­ing unit, the resources at Zim­babwe’s dis­posal in an in­creas­ingly tech­no­log­i­cal age are miles be­hind even those of Bangladesh, and said he would be ask­ing Zim­babwe Cricket (ZC) for back­ing in this re­gard.

Fur­ther ques­tions arise. Is it pos­si­ble for Zim­babwe to move for­ward whilst ZC re­main sad­dled with an as­phyx­i­at­ing debt that, in truth, calls into ques­tion the vi­a­bil­ity of its do­mes­tic plans?

One also won­ders whether any­thing can re­ally im­prove un­til there is a turnaround in the coun­try’s econ­omy.

In short, there are nu­mer­ous prob­lems to tackle, but there are some good men do­ing their best to come up with so­lu­tions.

The ques­tion then is what could hap­pen in the global game that would as­sist Zim­babwe?

A decade ago, with ac­cu­sa­tions of cor­rup­tion swirling around ZC, many ob­servers wanted them to be ex­pelled from the ICC.

When that did not hap­pen, the rest of the world qui­etly for­got about Zim­babwe. India have been con­sis­tent vis­i­tors over the past six years — “all-weather friends”, in the lo­cal par­lance — es­sen­tially pro­vid­ing the in­come for ZC to re­main a go­ing con­cern.

New Zealand, Pak­istan and Bangladesh have all done their bit, but their tours cost ZC more money than they make.

Every­one else has largely given up on Zim­babwe, and the dis­in­te­gra­tion of the Fu­ture Tours Pro­gramme has al­lowed other coun­tries to ig­nore them.

Since re­turn­ing to Test cricket in Au­gust 2011, Zim­babwe have played just six away Tests, three of them in a sin­gle series in Bangladesh.

With­out more in­ter­na­tional games, es­pe­cially Tests, Zim­babwe is un­likely to get far even if they re­form them­selves in ev­ery pos­si­ble way.

“We have too many long pe­ri­ods with­out in­ter­na­tional cricket, and un­for­tu­nately the gap be­tween our do­mes­tic cricket and in­ter­na­tional cricket is mas­sive,” Streak said. “Our next sched­uled Test series is in June next year. If you’re a spe­cial­ist Test player like Tino Ma­woyo, your next Test is in eight months’ time, and his only cricket in the mean­time will be do­mes­tic cricket.

“You can’t ex­pect to go from that to fac­ing Ran­gana Herath. But I’m telling the play­ers we can’t just ex­pect peo­ple to want to come and play us. We’ve got to earn the right.”

The next few years will be cru­cial for the game here, and Zim­babwe’s fu­ture is likely to be tied to what hap­pens at the ICC.

If noth­ing comes of at­tempts to add con­text and struc­ture to bi­lat­eral cricket, and Zim­babwe fail to qual­ify for the 2019 World Cup, then it’s dif­fi­cult not to see for­mer coach Dav What­more’s prophecy com­ing to pass and Zim­babwe go­ing Kenya’s way. But if the ICC’s Mem­bers can agree on a new for­mat for bi­lat­eral cricket, there is rea­son to be hope­ful.

The two-tier sys­tem dis­cussed by the ICC in Septem­ber would have solved the lack of cricket, but ZC op­posed it. “I mean that was like do­ing this,” said a for­mer Zim­babwe in­ter­na­tional this week, cocking his right hand into the shape of a gun be­fore pre­tend­ing to blow his brains out through the roof of his head.

“In July, ZC chair­man Tavengwa Mukuh­lani said the op­po­si­tion to the pro­posal was be­cause, “what­ever restruc­tur­ing of in­ter­na­tional cricket is done must be aimed at en­sur­ing that it im­proves cricket, and our be­lief is that you can only im­prove when you play against the best.”

The fact that only one of Zim­babwe’s Test op­po­nents since Au­gust 2011 have been ranked in the top four at the time that the two teams played — South Africa vis­ited for one Test in 2014 — con­firms they are not play­ing against the best as things stand.

By op­pos­ing the two-tier sys­tem, ZC have ef­fec­tively gam­bled on the ICC Mem­bers agree­ing on a bet­ter pro­posal soon.

The ICC is not known for mov­ing quickly with small de­ci­sions, let alone big ones. Should it all come to­gether, though, there are other changes on the hori­zon that would ben­e­fit Zim­babwe.

An ODI league would bring quan­tity and qual­ity, guaran­teeing games against every­one and even en­cour­ag­ing Eng­land to re­sume ties. The new struc­tures look set to make all of these fix­tures fi­nan­cially vi­able, rather than adding to ZC’s debt bur­den.

Fur­ther­more, if India come on board with the DRS and the ICC se­cure a global spon­sor for the sys­tem, it would be­come read­ily avail­able in Zim­babwe. The last two series have shown how badly it is needed.

And if ZC can pool their tele­vi­sion rights with other boards, they should se­cure more money that could re­sult in their games be­ing broad­cast to a wider au­di­ence.

Their last two series have been aired in just a hand­ful of coun­tries, and Zim­bab­weans have been vul­ner­a­ble to the whims of the state broad­caster, ZBC.

There is much to be hope­ful about then, but the stakes are high. The ICC’s drive to change bi­lat­eral cricket was largely borne out of a de­sire for con­text in games among mid­dle-rank­ing na­tions.

But fail­ure to trans­form the land­scape could eas­ily see its most em­bat­tled Full Mem­ber go qui­etly into the night. — ESPNCricinfo

Heath Streak

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