Cricket in Zimbabwe is in ruins. The crippled Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) is debt-stricken amid long-held suspicions of corruption and, on-field, Zimbabwe have become almost an afterthought.
This sad state of affairs wasn’t always the case. Two decades ago, Zimbabwe was the feel good story in world cricket after a breakout 1999 World Cup, where they stunningly upset powerhouses India and South Africa.
Unfortunately, it all went downhill shortly after through internal chaos amid a volatile backdrop of political and economic upheaval suffocating the country. Perhaps it was inevitable cricket was going to be muddied by the tentacles of then president Robert Mugabe’s oppressive regime but undeniably Zimbabwe’s plight has been a travesty.
Ever since political interference started eroding the team in the early 2000s leading to the infamous player revolt in 2004, Zimbabwe has been a basket case marked by a painful five-year exile from Test cricket and a slew of talented players leaving the country.
Underlining the precarious situation, Tatenda Taibu – a former Test captain – and his wife received death threats in 2005 after he spoke out against the administration. Taibu and his wife had to go into hiding for a period of time.
Amid such heavy-handed ruling, cricket has felt the brunt of the autocracy and often been used as a political football. “Cricket has been put on the sidelines for other motives… for what? For power,” a source close to ZC tells me.
The specter of mismanagement and nefarious motives from power brokers continue to ominously hang over cricket in the southern African country. ZC has been financially ruined marked by a $19 million debt owed to local banks and the situation hit rock bottom when the governing body could not pay its players for outstanding salaries and also match fees dating back to last year’s tour of Sri Lanka.
The dire situation could no longer be ignored with the International Cricket Council (ICC) resolving in its annual meeting in June to release funds to ZC to help pay the outstanding remuneration owed to players and staff.
It has been reported that a drip-feed of ICC funds, instead of the usual two lump sums a year, is hoped to be a more prudent approach for ZC. The ICC’s “controlled funding” does come with strict conditions notably with the governing body to oversee and approve all payments made by ZC.
“ZC for many years has received millions in funding from the ICC but does not have a single asset and doesn’t own any of its grounds,” the source says. “It isn’t hard to read between the lines. It is long overdue for something to be done.”
Demanding their owed remuneration, a number of senior players made themselves unavailable for home limited-overs series featuring Pakistan and Australia in July. In what should have been a celebration of top-flight cricket, a weakened Zimbabwe predictably couldn’t muster a fight in the T20I tri-series or the subsequent ODI series against Pakistan in a great shame for enthusiastic local fans starved of elite cricket.
There had been some positive strides in recent times through the guidance of former ICC chief financial officer Faisal Hasnain but he left his post in May as ZC managing director after just 13 months at the helm. He had reportedly received death threats from ZC board members and fled the country last November.
Amid an unstable climate, the stench of corruption has plagued Zimbabwean politics and cricket has not been immune. Two officials from the Harare Metropolitan Cricket Association were charged earlier this year with breaching the ICC’s anti-corruption code to once again highlight the persistent problems within cricket in Zimbabwe.
There was speculation that the ICC considered suspending Zimbabwe’s Full Membership, which would have meant losing most of its $94 million under the world governing body’s 2016-23 shared-funding model. Despite all the problems and upheaval in ZC, the ICC clearly were reluctant to slap a suspension – undoubtedly concerned that it could prove fatal for the sport there.
Even though they failed to qualify for next year’s World Cup – an undeniable blow for an on-field resurgence – Zimbabwe has some building blocks through the likes of Brendan Taylor, Craig Ervine and Graeme Cremer.
It appears Zimbabwe will be focusing on getting back on track through limited-overs cricket ensuring they remain invisible in Test cricket. They have only played in 21 Tests this decade but are set to play a two-match series in Bangladesh in November – their first Tests this year.
There is hope that with an improved financial situation combined with the ICC’s structural changes to international cricket, Zimbabwe could host more series leading to a regeneration of cricket. For a nation that has endured so much turmoil, pessimism will continue to linger.
“In the 1990s and early 2000s, you could be proud of Zimbabwean cricket,” the source says. “But since then there have been too many people with power in the sport who don’t have cricket at heart.
“There are people who have given their life to cricket in Zimbabwe. We can’t let cricket in Zimbabwe die.”
This article is taken from forbes.com.