Déjà vu as ICC World Cup beckons

JOHANNESBURG - With less than three months to go to the 2015 Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, Zimbabwe cricket fans will be hoping against hope that we can put on a proud showing at this international showpiece.

I too will be hoping (rather than expecting) for a proud showing. The point is, in a game like cricket, at the senior level that our national team plays, plans and strategy are more important that the long hard hours put in at the nets and at the gym.

Allow me to explain; long hours and hard work in the sun are vital for success in cricket at the highest level – as is ice cream in a milkshake.  You cannot have the product you want without that ingredient in each case, it’s impossible. However, we all know that a good milkshake requires that balance of taste, texture, temperature and flavour.

From where I sit watching and supporting the boys, I am concerned by what I see, and I am not even sitting that close, I am mostly watching through a TV screen from a far away place, but at times I do get an opportunity to be at the ground, live, and to even interact with the guys at a social and friendly level.

What I see is this. The passion and desire to play and represent the country is there, the effort to do better is displayed day in and day out and the hours are certainly put in to ensure fitness and finesse in their art, be it bowling or batting.

What I also see and worryingly so is the anxiety on most of these professionals’ faces. It is anxiety not borne not from who the opposition is on the day (these guys are too professional and focussed to allow that to happen), but rather it is one of seemingly living in doubt about what tomorrow brings. A fear of the establishment of which they are an integral part. They are treated as the flavouring of the milkshake that is being made as opposed to that very ice cream that makes the milkshake.

For this state of affairs I blame the ZC administration (and yes, I have done so before, but someone please offer a different point of view if you consider me wrong). To the ZC administration, I contend this. My milkshake analogy continues: there is too much sugar and not enough ice cream, there is water being used in the mix instead of milk. To this I mean, the administration’s focus is flawed. A few days ago I read that the Logan Cup had not started on time due to the players’ contracts not being finalised and unhappiness embedded in some of the conditions therein, such as player fees, etc. Again?

Did this not happen last year too? Also, were the ZC not bailed out financially by the International Cricket Council not so long ago? Administrators do not go to the World Cup, players do. If you send players to the World Cup who have not been playing regular cricket three months before the World Cup starts, they will be decimated. It stands to reason. 

On to selection of the national team, I also disagreed in my own personal view of the team that was selected for the Bangladesh tour currently underway. My contention was this; this is arguably the last major tour before the World Cup starts. So, why are we sending new blood on such a tour “for experience” when the World Cup beckons?

Zimbabwe hardly gets enough international fixtures in a year and in the months preceding such a major tournament we are still experimenting? Unless, you tell me that the youngsters (who are very talented) are part of the 2015 World Cup mix ahead of some very experienced and tried campaigners? Really?

Sean Williams is sitting at home after a good run in the last series with South Africa and Australia. Personally I would have humbly suggested we use this tour to start getting out World Cup plans in place and give our most likely players to represent us game time and not use the tour for experience. I wonder. On a final point on this matter, I notice we have seven administrators on tour in Bangladesh now – yet we can’t pay our players!

On to the World Cup, and it will be an interesting one indeed as well as challenging. Of the major playing nations, did you know we have South Africa, Pakistan, India and the West Indies in our group? We have our work cut out. South Africa is rated number one or number two in the world regularly. India has an incredible batting line up; did you know their Rohit Sharma hit 264 runs against Sri Lanka in an ODI this week? 264! I can tell you it’s hard enough to make a 50. My question is, have we started analysing our opposition in our group and making plans to counter their strengths? The West Indies and South Africa will bring a heavy pace attack for the quick Australasia wickets. Last I checked, we were preparing low slow wickets when we hosted these countries earlier in the year. Then we went to Bangladesh for a tour where they also have low slow wickets. How are we preparing for what is going to be a pace onslaught? I fear we may have missed a trick here.

To conclude, I offer my own solutions/recommendations  for the rescue of the game in Zimbabwe:

•Spend less money on administration and more on the structures of the game. The administration seems too bloated to me.

•Return to grass roots development – seriously. Do this with skilled coaches and former players. Even import some international talent for short stints to run coaching clinics to help and inspire our youngsters.

•Do not let the cricket infrastructure we have crumble. Spend money to maintain its upkeep.

•We do not have enough properly qualified and trained coaches. Spend money to train the trainer and improve standards. Even at national level we see technical deficiencies in our players. Trying to undo bad habits at this stage in their careers is very difficult. Spend the time and the money correcting these flaws at ages between 13 and 15.

•Run the national game with a sensible and focussed approach. Too often we see emotional decisions and rants in the national camp. At this level, emotion cannot win over a clinical, rational and informed approach. This emotional approach also lends itself to the anxiety and uncertainty of the players as they will worry about what tomorrow brings in the camp as opposed to how do I make a 100 runs tomorrow.

•Finally, when things go wrong in our game, let us blame our players less and our administrators more. After all, we all know where the rot starts. Players respond to the system they are in. They do not sign the deals and run the operation. They are part of the operation – a critically important part.

I hope it is not too late to get a brains trust that plots a well planned and executed ploy to spring some surprises at the 2015 World Cup. But as far as the game of cricket in Zimbabwe is concerned, I get a distinct feeling of déjà vu.

*Bernard Pswarayi is a former player and cricket fan, writing here in his personal capacity. He can be contacted by e-mail at pswarayibernard@gmail.co.za.

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