Turmoil in Zimbabwe cricket

WITH a vertical split threatening Zimbabwe cricket, the game is in the midst of a grave situation in the southern African nation.

WITH a vertical split threatening Zimbabwe cricket, the game is in the midst of a grave situation in the southern African nation. The big question is — will cricket survive in this country?

Sadly, even as South Africa has buried its racist past, the Zimbabwean cricket is now divided on the basis of colour. For the first two matches of the ODI series against the visiting Sri Lankans, not a single white player was part of the side, even as Tatenda Taibu, at 20, became the youngest ODI captain.

Way back in 2000, during the tour of India, former Zimbabwe captain Heath Streak had said that it was not easy for him or some of the others to focus on cricket while, back home, armed gangs were burning their farmland and indulging in acts of violence.

Yet, keeping that aside, Streak & Co. did, bravely put their best foot forward for Zimbabwe, with the sum often exceeding the parts. However, certain core issues, simmering and affecting the very fabric of the game in the country, were bound to surface at some point of time.

There were reports of colour of the skin than merit being the clinching factor in several key selections, and the Zimbabwe cricket was the biggest loser. Racism, in any form, has no place in cricket.

Andy Flower, Zimbabwe's most celebrated cricketer, did make a his point when he, along with black paceman Henry Olonga, sported arm-bands in protest during the World Cup, 2003, incurring the wrath of the authorities in Zimbabwe.

When they decided to make a statement focussing on the atrocities on whites in their country, Flower and Olonga were putting their careers on the line. They did not wear the Zimbabwe colours after the World Cup.

England too decided not to travel to Zimbabwe on `moral' grounds for its World Cup match, the treatment of whites in the country under Robert Mugabe's regime coming under the scanner again.

Cricket should never be mixed with politics, however, in extreme circumstances, the game can be used as a tool to fight oppression.

The white settlers did bring the game to Zimbabwe, and after the country's stirring deeds in the 1983 World Cup, when it stunned a mighty Australian side, Zimbabwe has been a force to reckon with in world cricket.

Along the way, plenty of initiatives were taken to promote cricket among the blacks, and Olongo, and Taibu were products of these development schemes.

In Taibu's case, Andy Flower took special interest in this precociously talented youngster, and it was the former Zimbabwean captain's father who presented Taibu his first pair of wicket-keeping gloves.

Andy Flower had a lot to do with the rise of Taibu into one of the finest wicket-keeper batsmen in world cricket. Taibu could walk into the team on merit; the same could not be said of some of the others.

One can relate to Heath Streak's mental turmoil. Zimbabwe, given the lack of depth in its cricketing ranks, was struggling in the international arena, and, to make the matters worse, the captain was not getting the men of his choice.

In the event, it was hardly surprising that Streak decided to take the extreme step, ahead of Sri Lanka's tour, and joining forces with him were all the white cricketers. Streak had demanded that the members of the selection panel should have at least played first class cricket, but this would have meant those holding positions of power would have been disqualified straightaway.

The Zimbabwe Cricket Union promptly rejected Streak's demands and "accepted his" resignation from all forms of the game. It was a sad, sad moment, for, the committed Streak, at 30, has plenty of cricket ahead of him.

Zimbabwe, a bright, bold cricketing force in the '99 World Cup, now lay in tatters, and the authorities have to take the blame for allowing the game to be used as a tool by the politicians.

Cricket stares at one of its biggest challenges. Zimbabwe still holds the right cards. If any of the countries, under the International Cricket Council (ICC) umbrella, fails to tour Zimbabwe, then it risks a �1.1 millon fine, not to speak of a one year ban. With the result, England, taking into account the heavy financial penalties, might be touring Zimbabwe after all.

However, considering the unusual circumstances in Zimbabwe, there are already hints that the ICC would have a re-think about the clause. When Zimbabwe fielded an all-black eleven against Sri Lanka, it was not putting together its best side, and the ICC is bound to have a closer look into the aspect.

The issue has forced the cricketers of the world to explore their conscience, and already Australian leg-spinner Stuart MacGill has pulled out of the touring party citing moral reasons. There are indications that others might follow suit. Racism and politics have no place in cricket. The cricketing world has to fight the situation unitedly. It is time for the ICC to step in and adopt a bold stance.