Everyone loves an underdog

Apparently, the title of this column is not, in fact, true. While most of us simply enjoyed Zimbabwe’s success, there were a few Proteas supporters who felt far more inclined to point out the weakened composition of their team, many of whom were ‘rusty’, and the fact that the pitches during the T20 Triangular in Harare were ‘poor’ and ‘unsuitable for good strokeplay’.

Fortunately, no such comments were coming from the Proteas themselves or their management. Not a single ‘excuse’ was offered. “Zimbabwe outplayed us for the second time in the tournament and they deserved to win both games. We weren’t good enough, that’s all there is to it,” said captain Hashim Amla, once again the perfect gentleman and ambassador for his sport and country.

South African teams in the past may have been a little dismissive of ‘junior’ opposition and disinclined to give them credit, even when it was deserved. That certainly wasn’t the case during the course of this week but it may be worth reflecting just a little bit longer on exactly who the Proteas were beaten by in Sunday’s final.

Richard Mazhange, who bowled the best yorkers in the tournament, is on a contract of $400 per month from his franchise, the MidWest Rhinos. For those unfamiliar with the US$/Rand exchange rate, that’s a fraction over R2 400 per month, a long, long way below SA’s minimum wage for the most menial work. For the last month he has been lodging with four other members of the national squad in a house next to the training facility at Harare Country Club.

They are provided with breakfast and must collect their dinner from the kitchen at 3:30pm because that’s when it closes. The inevitable issues with Zimbabwe Cricket’s cash-flow means some of them have been borrowing a few dollars here and there merely to buy air-time so they can phone home. (Everyone is getting paid eventually, but it’s a slow and frustrating trickle.)

Some of the national squad have already taken part-time jobs in a return to the semi-professional era that characterised much of the 1990s when Zim cricket was at its strongest. Stuart Matsikenyeri, for example, requested extra training in the mornings because he is running the sports programme at a local school in the afternoons. Perhaps the attempt to usher in a fully professional era was premature. Certainly the game’s administrators in the country aimed too high, too early as far as financial sustainability was concerned.

Now they are backtracking and building from the foundations again. The cricketers South Africa played against on Sunday have had their salaries cut by between 40 and 70 per cent in the last year. Not a single one of them earns the equivalent of a basic Franchise retainer in South Africa. Not even Brendan Taylor, their captain and match winner on Sunday.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

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