AFTER the uncertainty of 2019 in the aftermath of the country’s suspension by the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the gloom brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s remarkable Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) still managed to emerge in a strong position in 2020 amid hopes of an even brighter future.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
The year 2020 started with the Chevrons hoping to pick up the pieces after a forgettable year in which the country’s membership of the ICC came under severe threat due to alleged government interference in the sport.
The chaos, which had emanated from the Sports and Recreation Commission’s suspension of the ZC board and secretariat, resulted in the Chevrons being booted out of the T20 World Cup while the women’s side also missed out on an opportunity to compete in the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup Qualifier in Scotland.
Following the turbulence of the previous year, there were fears that 2020 would be yet another forgettable year for local cricket — because of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the end while the national cricket side lost out on considerable game time because of the effects of the pandemic, the domestic game made significant strides forward.
Zimbabwe began the year on a positive note after putting on a solid performance in the two-match home Test series against Sri Lanka, coming very close to winning the opening Test before heroically salvaging a draw in the second match.
A limited-overs series in Bangladesh followed where despite losing the ODI and T20 series, the Chevrons showed glimpses of a bright future ahead.
After missing the Test series due to the birth of his first child, Sean Williams lead from the front with a magnificent century in the ODI while young Wesley Madhevere enjoyed an impressive start to international cricket.
Zimbabwe had been scheduled to have a bumper season of international cricket, but it fell victim to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic with visits by Ireland, India and Afghanistan as well as a scheduled tour to Australia being cancelled.
English county sides Derbyshire and Durham arrived in March on a historic pre-season tours, but were also forced to abruptly leave the country just before a worldwide lockdown in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Like most professional athletes around the world, local cricketers were forced to work from home, while coaches conducted online training sessions.
Amid the gloom of the Covid-19 pandemic which led to over six months of inactivity, ZC, previously saddled by legacy debts and battling for survival, was able to emerge from the uncertainty stronger, reaping the rewards of a restructuring exercise.
“Perhaps the biggest irony of our lifetime, the very same horrible year saw us making huge strides towards making ZC debt-free,” ZC board chairman Tavengwa Mukuhlani said while presenting the chairman’s report to delegates during the virtual AGM in June.
“At the close of the just-ended financial year, we had whittled the US$27 million legacy debt down to US$1 million, in the process breaking the chains that had enslaved our organisation to an unending cycle of financial troubles.”
The repaid amounts included the US$6 million obligation to the ICC as well as the loans worth up to $10 million that were housed under the Zimbabwe Asset Management Company.
The positive energy from the boardroom appears to be extending to the field of play as the Chevrons ended the year on a high by putting on a good show in their first international assignment after the Covid-19 lockdown.
The Pakistan series, which was played in a bio secure environment, marked the return to the Chevrons fold of seamer Blessing Muzarabani, whose heroics secured Zimbabwe’s famous super over victory in the third ODI against Pakistan last month.
Although Zimbabwe lost the ODI series 2-1, their win in the third ODI has placed the country in a strong position for automatic qualification for the 2021 ICC World Cup.
The Chevrons sat fourth in the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup Super League points table behind Australia, England and Pakistan with 10 points from three matches in the recent update.
The encouraging performances in international cricket have also been complemented by ZC’s desire to breathe new life into the domestic cricket structures, with the launch of an elite national club competition, the National Premier League, as well as two women’s inter-provincial tournaments, the Fifty50 Challenge and the Women’s T20 Cup.