The beginning of the end

HARARE - This article is written by somebody who is unable to differentiate between black and white, as he is unable to see, and the only race he cares about is the most important race on the planet.

That race being the human race.

As we entered the month of April, two thoughts struck me at the same time.

The first, and most important thought, was that it was coming up to the first anniversary of being married to the best wife in the world.

The second thought was that the month of April marked the 10th year of sadness and chaos, as a once vibrant company and highly competitive team underwent a life changing experience.

This is a story that changed from a best-seller novel to sadness and tragedy in a few short weeks.

The Zimbabwe national cricket team had just returned from a gruelling tour of Australia, where they participated in a triangular series alongside India, as well as the hosts.

It was one of those tours that made you want to yank out handfuls of your own hair with frustration, as the team competed and held their own in most of the matches, but were unable to deliver the knockout punch.

Stuart Carlisle and Sean Ervine were involved in a fourth wicket partnership of 202 runs, becoming the first and up to now, the only Zimbabweans to achieve this feat.

Ervine through pure tenacity, determination and heaps of natural talent changed himself from a useful hard hitting lower order batsman to a free-flowing middle order batsman and at the end of that tour he found himself batting at number five in the ODIs, and number six in the two Test matches against Bangladesh.

What really got me going, however, were the two quick bowlers, Dougie Hondo and Blessing Mahwire.

Hondo had been in and out of the national team since 2001, and his big smile and hard work was finally beginning to pay off.

It was also clear to see that Mahwire had come along in leaps and bounds since his nervous Test debut against Pakistan in November 2002.

On more than one occasion, MaHwire produced spells of genuine pace, and he also backed up his potential with the ball with some breath taking skills of natural athleticism in the field.

It finally seemed like we had a good seam bowling attack.

Led by skipper Heath Streak, the rest of the seamers such as Andy Blignaut, Travis Friend, Hondo and Mahwire and the rest would have probably gelled into a decent unit by Zimbabwean standards.

Bangladesh arrived in the country, but a combination of bad weather and disappointing cricket by Zimbabwe put a bit of a dampener on the series.

Little did we know that worse and more damning news was to follow when Heath Streak was sacked as captain after failing to reach an agreement with the then Zimbabwe Cricket Union about selectors and board members.

This sacking then led to the immediate appointment of vice-captain Tatenda Taibu, which in turn triggered the resignation of 15 senior and mainly white players in sympathy to Streak’s dismissal as captain.

This rash decision by the players threw the ZCU into turmoil and panic understandably set in.

Sri Lanka and Australia were about to tour Zimbabwe, and in an effort for the tour to still go ahead, ZCU probably made the biggest mistake of their career when they thrust the Zimbabwe Under-19 team into the limelight.

The Under-19s had just returned from a successful World Cup in Bangladesh, where they caused a major upset by beating Australia by seven wickets.

But these talented youngsters were nowhere near ready for the big scene.

A couple of seasons of first-class cricket would have been perfect for them to prepare them for the leap from playing youth cricket to top level Test cricket.

The team then suffered terribly at the hands of both Sri Lanka and Australia, and were also roasted and lambasted by members of the media who expected miracles from youngsters who hadn't even scored hundreds or taken five wickets at domestic first-class level yet.

The honourable decision to have made, would have been to have withdrawn from the international scene with immediate effect, until such time that the team had toughened up both physically and mentally.

But if that wasn't enough, ZCU then underwent a huge and crippling transformation as scores of people who neither cared about, nor understood the game flooded all areas of the game, and marked their territory with intimidation and belligerents, forcing the incumbent board to retreat into obscurity.

These change of events not only ruined the game at international level, but the future of the game was also affected.

Although we saw many of the previously disadvantaged players come through the ranks, it soon became apparent that the new board focused mainly on the Harare-based club Takashinga club, therefor depriving hundreds of equally talented black players around the country the opportunity to improve as players.

ZCU then became ZC (Zimbabwe Cricket) and a once friendly environment became as cold and hostile as a snow storm in the north pole.

Of course, there were some very happy and memorable moments that will never be forgotten.

The historical five wicket win over Australia in the ICC World Twenty20 in 2007 as well as wins over South Africa in the unofficial T20 triangular series in 2012 are moments that will be treasured and written down in the record books, but the sadness and terrible mismanagement that has crippled the sport in our beloved country heavily outweighs the few positives.

Even as this article is been written, I ask myself the question:  How much longer can we limp on before finally collapsing?

Will the promise of a Test match against South Africa and a triangular series against the same team and Australia be enough to keep the players from moving on?

How much longer will club cricket and schoolboy cricket be able to continue when we hear stories of massive staff retrenchments looming?

How much longer will the already shabby facilities be able to function without any maintenance?

And why? All for the sake of political pride and selfish interests?

All of these events should really have benefitted every cricket playing-loving person in Zimbabwe, but instead, it spelt the beginning of the end.

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