Exciting era for Zimbabwe

WHILE Governments in various parts of the world debate what sanctions or action should be taken against Zimbabwe and President Mugabe, Zimbabwean cricket tries desperately to continue their development programmes in both the black and white communities.

This is the third successive year I have spent in Harare helping their cricket and I am very impressed both by the development and coaching programmes and the rise in the quality of players being produced.

Three years ago only 20 coaches were operating in the black development areas, now there are 72.

In a time where cricket is virtually disappearing from schools in many parts of the world and in particular in Australia and England it is thriving in Zimbabwe.

In the high density areas where two separate groups attend the same. School, one starting at 7 a.m. and the next at 1 p.m. sport is a vital component in the curriculum.

Discipline is quite amazing and when one group finishes they have to clean up both their own class rooms and the playgrounds for the arrival of the next group.

The Zimbabwe Cricket Union have embarked on a programme to place both practise and concrete wickets in every school.

This programme is developing well and recently they installed six practise pitches and nets in one of the largest establishments.

Once again discipline is tight and in official school training sessions, all children have to wear white T-shirts, shorts and plimsolls.

In the sessions I have attended even in the poorest of areas they are immaculately turned out.

Parents in these areas place great value on education and will sacrifice almost anything to give their children a good education.

At one time almost all of the good black cricketers were coming from private schools.

Most of them were able to attend these schools because the Zimbabwe Cricket Union sponsored them.

Now more and more are coming through the Black Development Programme direct and also through the increasing number of black cricket clubs which have been created to cope with the increasing number of Africans who want to play the game.

Cricket is viewed by many families as giving their children the best possible opportunity to succeed in both sport and the community.

The junior development programmes are moving ahead and youngsters are showing not only talent but a real love for the game and have to virtually be thrown out of the playgrounds each night. So keen are they.

At present there are 70 coaches operating full time in these high density schools.

Whereas, at one time the Zimbabwe Cricket Association paid for promising youngsters to attend private schools with excellent cricket facilities. Now more and more are coming through the black development programme.

At present there are over 70 coaches working in these high density schools where the demand to attend is so great, they have full time programmes in the morning for one group and in the afternoon a totally different group takes over.

While for a time a quota was introduced compelling a certain number of Africans to be chosen in all representative teams this has been officially abandoned and teams must be selected on merit.

The African children have shown wonderful natural ability but unfortunately sometime follow advice without question or understanding.

This has led to a cloning type situation in some areas and stunted the development of the natural characteristics of the boys.

By blindly accepting advice the development in some areas for the black cricketers may not be to the optimum.

This has been an area I am now tackling on my fourth visit to assist Zimbabwe cricket.

The African cricketers must be allowed to develop their own style and not compartmentalised into old-fashioned English ideals.

Without doubt these black cricketers have great natural talent and love for the game.

It is being accepted that left elbow up and all that old chap is not the way to go and black cricketers are now being allowed to play more instinctively.

I am amazed just how quickly they adapt to new thoughts and ideas.

This was clearly demonstrated when I drew attention to four players who all went to the same private school (funded by the Zimbabwe Cricket Union) who all had the same crouched stance which was limiting their movement.

I discussed this with their senior player and showed him the alternative and next day he returned with the problem solved and looking a far better player.

Within 24 hours the rest of his group took his advice and now look better players for it.

They sure have wonderful natural ball skills.

With cricket a virtually new game to the black population, great care must be taken to see that they get the right advice.

Invariably the young Africans are shy and don't ask for advice. This makes it imperative that they are handled properly, allowed to follow their natural instincts, but at the same time taught the simple basic fundamentals of the game.

At present South Africa and Zimbabwe are too English in style and with the emergence of the black players must be encouraged to develop their own instinctive style and not restricted by old fashioned theories and ways.

Zimbabwe must also be careful in the natural push for an African team they don't discourage the development of all players in this country.

At present there are a greater number of better white cricketers than the Africans.

This is natural for up to a few years ago very few Africans played the game.

There were a few Indians but in the system of the time they did not get the opportunities they deserved.

The number of Africans playing cricket is growing at a fast pace.

Within a decade or so they will probably be a dominant force.

Right now they are not and it is vital that Zimbabwe continues its policy of selecting teams on merit if they are to be a competitive force.

Fortunately those controlling the game in Zimbabwe appreciate this and this will be to the benefit of cricket in general for it will allow the young black cricketers time to develop the skills to succeed at the higher level.

I am very proud to be playing even a small part in this exciting era of Zimbabwean cricket.