With Darlington Majonga
WE wonder what the sharp-tongued Geoff Boycott would have said had he been witness to a bunch of 11 no-hopers cutting forlorn figures as they shuffled up and down between the pavilion
and the crease at Harare Sports Club like broiler chickens lining up for the slaughter.
Slaughtered they were, and the cricketers we thought were the best at Zimbabwe’s disposal seemed to have connived to discomfit all those who literally went hoarse defending the country’s Test status after a couple of forgettable outings that were deemed harmful to the integrity of premier cricket.
Zimbabwe’s innings and 294-run mauling at the hands of New Zealand inside two days has left us facing the grim and inescapable reality that the country is simply the world’s worst Test side.
Dubious footwork, atrocious shot selection, inconsistent bowling and poor fielding combined to skid Zimbabwe to an unimaginable nadir in their 13-year flirtation with elite cricket.
The debacle was so scandalous that respected critic Boycott, a former England Test skipper, might have run out of diction to describe the shambles. Even Richie Benaud, another renowned commentator, would have been left speechless.
All they can say now is: we told you so, Zimbabwe doesn’t deserve to be in the Test arena anymore. And all the evidence was on display at Harare Sports Club to back the calls to strip Zimbabwe of their status.
The humiliation itself – in front of a handful of faithful supporters – was yet another concoction of records. Besides being the eighth worst defeat in 129 years of elite international cricket, it was the second time in history that a team had been bowled out twice in a day.
All those who want to set new records can be assured Zimbabwe is so generous. And they won’t even have to sweat against pretenders who have only flattered to deceive.
It’s sad when spectator apathy hits the wonderful game of cricket, and it’s tantamount to treachery to the millions who follow the game religiously when they are subjected to mismatches that mock their passion.
It’s absolutely nonsense to have the easybeats in Test cricket only to boost averages for the Daniel Vettoris, Stephen Flemings and James Franklins of this world. It’s scandalous to have Zimbabwe around to provide opportunities to set records without breaking a sweat.
Of the 80 Tests they have played, Zimbabwe have won only eight, drawn 26 and lost 46. But even by their own pitiable standards, the farce on Monday was unprecedented and should have taken even the cricketers themselves by shock.
The most outrageous fact is that Zimbabwe were for the first time in 16 months fielding the best side possible – although a few other top players were injured. They showed nothing to distinguish them from elementary schoolboys still battling to grasp the basics of the game.
The latest humiliation just served to remind us of the execrable standoff between Zimbabwe Cricket and 15 white players – most of them senior – that gave critics the ammunition to rally for the country’s indefinite suspension from Test cricket.
Many made it conditional that Zimbabwe should only be allowed back into Test cricket if former captain Heath Streak and other rebel players returned to national duty.
We all feared confidence of Zimbabwe’s young cricketers – thrown into the deep end when most of them had hardly played meaningful first-class cricket – would be left battered when trampled on by the big boys.
Though the three Test series that Zimbabwe played with their inexperienced side was a harrowing experience, we still felt it was unfair for anyone to call for the relegation of the country from elite cricket.
Sanity prevailed and Streak came back. And so did established players Andy Blignaut, Stuart Carlisle, Trevor Gripper, Craig Wishart as well as rookies Barney Rogers, Gavin Ewing, Charles Coventry and Neil Ferreira.
We all would have loved to see Grant Flower, Ray Price and Sean Ervine returning to the fold as well.
But still with skipper Tatenda Taibu, history-making Hamilton Masakadza, Douglas Hondo and the new crop of players fast-tracked onto the international scene such as Tinashe Panyangara, Edward Rainsford, Elton Chigumbura, Brendan Taylor, Prosper Utseya, Blessing Mahwire and Graeme Cremer, we saw Zimbabwe a competitive outfit again. Things were back to normal, we thought.
That was not to be. Not only was the relevance of the former rebel players questionable, but also Zimbabwe’s Test status came under scrutiny – again.
It’s a worrying factor that the inexperienced side that held the fort for Zimbabwe last season had managed 250 runs against the more potent attack of Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan of Sri Lanka.
No one expected Zimbabwe to win, but at least we expected the home side to be competitive – what more with the influential Streak and other senior players back in the fold.
What really needs to be done to save Zimbabwe cricket?
The potential is there, but it’s not good to stretch the patience of the cricket-loving fraternity by failing to nurture that potential into world-class glory.
While it’s up to the cricketers themselves to aid their cause on the international scene, it’s high time the authorities looked at the technical set-up.
To be precise, Phil Simmons is not good enough to coach a nascent Test side like Zimbabwe. The gentle giant is not only too soft for the job but has clearly failed to inspire confidence into the players.
The debacle in Bangladesh, when Zimbabwe threw away a 2-0 cushion to lose a five-game one-day international series, just served to expose the weaknesses of the national team coach and probably those around him.
While the dissonance between players in camp may be a result of the rebel saga as well as age and social differences, Simmons has failed to harmonise relations and to instil discipline among the cricketers.
It would be foolhardy anyway to expect that from Simmons who in the past was accused of frequenting nightspots in the company of players.
The inexperienced Simmons was fast-tracked to take over the reins from Australian Geoff Marsh, but the experiment – if it was not meant to be a stopgap measure – has failed. The Trinidadian should be replaced forthwith.
What poor Zimbabwe need now is a good coach who can inspire and nurture the potential we have.
However, Simmons should not take the flak alone: the whole technical set-up should be reviewed – from provincial to national level.
We have just had too much politics dominating the sport at the expense of the players. That should stop forthwith, and this is the time to mend relations and map the way forward.
It’s unfortunate the integration project to spread cricket – previously a preserve of the white minority – to blacks was greeted with malice and suspicion, but it’s the right track Zimbabwe Cricket should remain on. Because of the economic and political crisis, we have had a number of whites emigrating and that certainly has a negative impact on the game.
We still need the likes of Dave Houghton, Alistair Campbell, Eddo Brandes, Andy Flower, Adam Huckle and many others to help the many young talented players learn the ropes. These guys can still be useful on the domestic front as well if they can still play to impart their experience to the many youngsters.
While financial constraints maybe impediments to have these former stars involved full-time in the game, we are sure the International Cricket Council – which is not keen on expelling Zimbabwe for whatever reason – will be too eager to help.
It’s a lot that needs to be done to not only save Zimbabwe’s Test status, but to ensure the country becomes successful on the international scene. And Peter Chingoka knows it as well.
Otherwise the mess we witnessed this week is a serious indictment of the Zimbabwe Cricket leadership, though the 11 men who embarrassed us should do some serious soul-searching.
If the Zimbabwe Cricket and the players themselves have any conscience, they should know that Zimbabweans and world cricket don’t deserve this.