Zimbabwe is back…hopefully

People who look for symbolism in the most straightforward and simple of things are often clutching at straws and displaying signs of desperation. Sometimes things are just what they are.

A good example of this was the sixth-wicket partnership of 188 between Stuart Matsikenyeri and Tatenda Taibu at Willowmore Park on Sunday. Was it symbolic of the rebirth of Zimbabwean cricket, or was it just two spunky cricketers doing their best against hopeless odds and a far superior opponent?

In this case, maybe, it just might have been a bit of both.

On the field the Zimbabwean team has displayed an unmistakable new determination in recent months but the background to their rediscovered spirit is to be found off the field and behind the scenes.

Administrators who once felt the need to keep young players ‘in their place’ by witholding payments and ignoring contractual obligations have now realised that cricket teams don’t respond in the same way to military draconianism as army soldiers might. There are some similarities between ‘war’ and ‘cricket’, but only in the symbolic sense.

Peter Chingoka is an experienced political negotiator but he now represents Zimbabwe Cricket in a non-executive capacity – honorary to all intents and purposes – which means that the players with whom he clashed now have no reason to mistrust him.

Ozias Bvute, who also lost the trust of many players for a while, is the ‘hands-on’ chief executive of ZC but has gone out of his way to ensure that the players know he will not play a role, official or unofficial, in selection or playing affairs. Much in the way that Gerald Majola oversees the management of CSA but leaves selection and playing affairs to Mike Procter, Mickey Arthur, Doc Moosajee and Graeme Smith, Bvute has empowered the players and their officials to take responsibility for the team and their performances.

Things could hardly be more different to how they were for the last five or six years.

Believe it or not, it hardly matters to the Zimbabwean team that their skin colour is now inconsequential and quotas have been abolished. “There were so many other political agendas going on, apart from racial quotas, that nobody knew if and when they would be selected. We just ended up believing that selection was not based on performance, and that was really hard to live with,” said one player.

Majola has been involved in lengthy discussions recently with ZC officials regarding the possibility of the Proteas beginning each home season with a three-match ODI series – either home or away – against their northern neighbours in much the same way that Australia and New Zealand contest the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy.

The International fixture list is wretchedly congested already, as we know, but that idea is a winner. It would take seven days – no more. No warm-ups, no ‘acclimatisation’ days, just in and out. Zimbabwe’s cricketers would have something serious and meaningful to look forward to and prepare for every year and the results could do wonders to help Zim’s goal of regaining Test status.

Cricket lovers should do all they can to avoid the mistake of coupling Zimbabwe Cricket with Zimbabwe politics and the unfortunate Robert Mugabe. While one clings to the memory of the reprehensible days of colonialism when a tiny, privileged minority enjoyed vast benefits at the expense of the poor majority, the other has rattled lots of cages in its bid to change the sporting landscape and, it would seem, is ready and willing to move on.

It seems that they are genuine and sincere. If that is the case, and the work of the auditors in recent years can be explained and not brushed under the carpet, then South Africa must lead the way – cautiously at first – in re-embracing Zimbabwe.

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