Unusual happenings in Zim

Careful not to be led astray by rumours and tittle-tattle, it was important to verify a story which emerged recently from Zimbabwe. From inside the Zimbabwe national squad, in fact.

ZCU president Ozias Bvute has a radical history within the sport in his home country and has stood so strongly for transformation as to be regarded as militant bordering on obsessive – and certainly more ‘anti-white’ than ‘pro-black.’

In his more measured and reflective moments he would assure those he felt needed to be assured that Zimbabwe Cricket would, once again, return to merit-only selection as soon as the base of the playing pyramid had been expanded to include thousands of black kids who were keen and talented but never previously had the opportunity.

He never put a specific time-frame on the process but made it clear that he intended expanding the game quickly and also that selection with any sort of racial bias could only succeed in the short term. He was very against what he described as the white ‘clique’ which he said dominated Zimbabwean cricket. Which was absolutely understandable and fair enough.

One man who was said to be at the centre of that ‘clique’ but who always claimed to have the best interests of Zimbabwean cricket at heart was former captain Alistair Campbell. He has now been appointed chairman of selectors and head of ZC’s Cricket Committee which has been assigned to oversee every aspect of playing affairs.

At the start of this season – and this was the part which needed verification – Bvute addressed the national squad and told them: “As of 20 minutes ago, there will be no short cut into the national team. There will be no easy ride for anybody. From this moment on, the selectors have been instructed to pick the best XI players, without exception.” The ongoing series against Kenya would suggest that he meant it. Zimbabwe have fielded seven white players.

Every professional player in South Africa has seen and felt the effect on a team, be it provincial, franchise or national, which has been ‘balanced’ by factors other than batting, bowling and wicket keeping requirements. It is difficult for the players to perform at their best.

Fortunately it happens so seldom these days that many players who used to feel queasy about the composition of their team have now virtually forgotten what it’s like to wonder why they, or their team mates, had made the starting XI. There is a ripe irony in the situation because the most paranoid young man I spoke to in recent years was a white cricketer who believed he would not have been selected for his team on merit but, because of quotas (sorry, targets) which necessitated the inclusion of a black player with a different skill, his as yet unrefined skills were required in a different category.

South Africa may not be ready yet to follow Zimbabwe’s example in reverting to merit only selection. It requires trust amongst all parties that genuine development of the game below national and first-class level will continue and that trust probably doesn’t exist in sufficient quantities to make the abolition of ‘targets’ viable yet. But we can’t be too far away, can we?

One immediate upshot of Zimbabwe’s decision may be the chance to test their skills against the Proteas in the next couple of weeks. CSA is desperate to organise a couple of ‘warm-up’ ODIs ahead of the England series in mid-November and, with the Kenyan team struggling to raise enough money to fly to OR Tambo and accept CSA’s invitation (seriously), Zimbabwe have been placed on standby and would, I am told, be only too happy to accept.

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