Working with the Zim boys

For those who weren’t aware, I have the great privilege of seeing at least some of this tournament from the ‘inside’ as part of the Zimbabwe squad. It is an opportunity not afforded to the majority of journalists and one that has, so far, not disappointed.

Zimbabwe may be on the economic mend but that does not extend to newspapers sending sports reporters to cover World Cups, so writing daily reports for local media consumption sits amongst my daily duties.

It is one thing for countries such as Canada, Kenya and the excellent Netherlands to enjoy the World Cup for the unique experience it is, but quite another for Zimbabwe – both players and administrators – because they are not amateur but fully professional.

A return to Test cricket has already been confirmed and announced for later in the year with one-off fixtures against Bangladesh, Pakistan and New Zealand. Anything which can be done to assist and advise the players of what demands and responsibilities they will face can only help.

Of course, with former players of the calibre of Alistair Campbell, Heath Streak and Grant Flower in the mix, there’s no shortage of experience. And there isn’t much head coach Alan Butcher hasn’t seen before in the game.

There are many differences between being part of a World Cup on the ‘inside’ and from covering it as a journalist on the ‘outside’. The screaming sirens of the police convoy which barges traffic out of the way and clears a path for the team bus en route to the ground is probably the most obvious one. I look down at the tuk-tuks and remember all too well the number of times I was almost catapulted from one by a violent swerve to avoid a team bus on previous tours of the subcontinent.

The team accreditation pass also makes a big difference. Whereas my many friends and colleagues are battling with the often nonsensical bureaucracy of the Indian police force, I am – for the first time – able to walk freely around the stadiums without being ‘apprehended’ for no apparent reason.

I made as many elementary errors in the early part of my career as any other young journalist with regard to judgement and criticism of players. Professional cricketers, as I have written many times before, are sensitive creatures. They toil hard and don’t take kindly to ‘negative’ words written or broadcast by media men whom they neither know nor respect.

It has been a tremendously rewarding experience delivering the same observations face-to-face that I would have done in print or over the airwaves. Having the opportunity to help out at fielding practices makes a difference. There’s no point in pretending that you’re any good at catching or throwing after 20 years in the press box but players can very easily see whether you are making an effort and they are receptive to that.

Hopefully, there will be benefits for them. Yesterday a reporter in Harare wrote a scurrilous and provocative story about how much money the Zim players would make from the tournament, regardless of whether they achieve their objective of qualifying for the quarter-finals. They were outraged…but felt powerless. “What can we do?” they asked helplessly.

Aha! Now that sounds like a challenge I could rise to. Easier than another fielding session.



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