From international stardom to phone snatching

HARARE - You inquire about a friend’s well-being and you’re informed that the police are on the lookout for him in relation to a mobile-phone snatching incident.

This could be normal in a country gripped with serious economic challenges and a high rate of unemployment.

But when the “thief” is a former international cricketer still in his 20s, you finally realise how a once-revered sport has been dragged to the brink.

This man is just one of several players, at an age where they should be at or reaching their peak, disillusioned and traumatised by events they never saw coming, in a sport they thought was their way out of poverty.

Another former player, good enough in his teens to be one of only two blacks in a provincial first-class side, spends his day wandering around downtown Harare or in the company of drug dealers — his friends — at a run-down apartment block occupied by prostitutes.

This is the sad tale of cricket in Zimbabwe where an entire generation of players — the majority with no other qualification than the ability to hurl and hit a cricket ball — has been forced into premature retirement by the dire financial situation.

Zimbabwe cricketers were well known for their pampered lifestyles, but years of political unrest in the country, exacerbated by an economy already under pressure, has had its toll.

Zimbabwe has lurched from one political crisis to another and the big cricketing nations boycotted tours to the country on moral and political grounds.

Salaries of players and staff were cut significantly. ZC reportedly owes a bank almost $18m.

Repeated promises were made to call off the strikes but the money was still missing. On the eve of Zimbabwe’s return from self-imposed Test exile in 2011, the former captain Tatenda Taibu gathered local and foreign press and accused his employers of “painting a house that was about to fall”.

Before a Test against Pakistan last year, players threatened to go on strike. They were persuaded and changed their mind. And they went on to beat Misbah-ul-Haq’s men.

But the promises remained unfulfilled. Now, there is a group of mostly black players who decided that enough was enough — they are boycotting domestic matches and as well as the 2014 World Twenty20 played in March in Bangladesh if outstanding dues were not cleared.

“Zimbabwe Cricket has been facing cash-flow challenges,” ZC Chairman Chingoka said.

“We have to overcome loss-making tours and keep underwriting the franchises and the development programme. There was also the curtailed Indian tour which had to be cut from seven ODIs to five and we lost out on television revenue.”

The strike was something ZC had not expected. It turned to the ICC, which answered the call by releasing a $3m loan. But the players would only resume training once the money hit their bank accounts.

“We empathise with their (players) hardship. We take pride in the welfare of all our employees but this situation was beyond our control. Over the last decade, we’ve had loss-making tours and our home series will only be profitable when we host England, India and, to a lesser extent, Australia,” Chingoka added.

The players and staff have received their outstanding dues, and the team did travel to Bangladesh, but former captain and coach Heath Streak believes the issues will crop up again and he remains concerned about the future of the game in Zimbabwe.

“It’s going to be difficult because this a short-term thing,” said Streak, who now runs a private academy in his hometown of Bulawayo.

“The money will go towards servicing debt. They need to come up with a financial plan so that they continue to pay players and staff consistently.”

Streak, Zimbabwe’s bowling coach until mid-2013, also found it difficult to work with players in the circumstances that prevailed.

“It’s difficult to motivate players that are not being paid for their efforts. The problem lay in the false promises. Guys were being told things that weren’t true.

“For me, that was the disappointing part. A lot of them were patient so the ZC ought to tell the truth.”

While Zimbabwe were never trophy contenders for the event in Bangladesh, the sorry state of cricket in a team that once comprised Andy Flower, Streak, Neil Johnson, Henry Olonga, Tatenda Taibu, the Strange brother and Alistair Campbell is in dire straits through no fault of their own.

The optimism on Chingoka’s face remains a surprise given the situation.

“The future looks bright for Zimbabwe cricket,” he assures.

Comments (4)

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chingoka, just like any other zim politician says the future looks bright. I don't agree

snowden - 26 May 2014

we can blame the economic challenges that are being faced, but the truth of the matter is that ZC have failed to strategize and manage its affairs. we the cricket loving public have even lost faith in ZC in all facets.

benji - 8 July 2014

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