IT’S not every day that a country gets the chance to host the International Cricket Council chairman, one of the most powerful men in world sport, for an entire week. But that has been our privilege, all week, with ICC chairman Shashank Manohar spending the last seven days in this country on a working visit aimed at reviving our game which has had a fair share of its challenges on and off the field.
The Indian has spent the week discussing cricket issues with our political leaders and the sport’s leadership and has been frank in his appraisal that our game isn’t where the world expects it to be and things have to change for the better.
He said it on arrival and has been consistent in his narrative, everywhere he has spoken, that Zimbabwe Cricket should be in a better shape right now than where it is.
We agree with him and we shouldn’t be blinded by the rare success that our Chevrons achieved in their tour of Sri Lanka where, for the first time in our history, we beat the Asian powerhouse in a One Day International series in their own backyard.
We also came very close to beating them in the only Test match only for our spirited challenge for victory, in which we took the contest into the final session, to be denied by some questionable umpiring.
But, amid all that euphoria, we shouldn’t forget that we lost ODI matches in Scotland and the Netherlands, ahead of the tour of Sri Lanka, against opposition which the world expects us to steamroll past because we are a better cricket-playing nation.
We should also not forget that we have failed to make an impression, when it comes to the World Cup tournaments, for some time now and this has been depressing given our record as the ultimate giant-killers from our first appearance on the grand stage in 1983 when we shocked Australia.
We should not ignore the fact that the nursery which used to supply the team with talented players like Tatenda Taibu, Hamilton Masakadza, Prosper Utseya, Graeme Crèmer and the others has seemingly been abandoned and we haven’t seen quality newboys coming to play for our national teams for some time now.
Then, of course, there is the elephant in the room – the huge debt estimated at about $19 million, which has been weighing heavily on ZC’s shoulders and making it difficult for the organisation to spend the kind of money they want in their development structures as they concentrate on servicing that massive debt.
We are charmed that all these issues featured prominently in the discussions which the ICC chairman held with the Government leaders, the sport’s leaders and our hardworking Minister of Sport and Recreation Makhosini Hlongwane.
Hlongwane has been a breath of fresh air since his arrival at the ministry, taking a leading role to ensure that our athletes and national teams write success stories rather than find comfort in mediocrity and keeping the administrators in check with a regular reminder that they owe this country a service to deliver medals.
We badly need to qualify for the next Cricket World Cup and, with coach Heath Streak showing he is the right man for the job and slowly, but surely, transforming his Chevrons into a competitive outfit again, we have no reason not to believe.
We will have better chances of qualifying for that global showcase if we host the qualifying tournament because, in our conditions, the expectations would be that we will have an advantage over the rest of our opponents and that is why the thrust for us to stage that mini-tourney is important.
We are happy that this issue featured prominently in this week’s discussions and the signal we are getting is that we are in the driving seat to host the tournament.
Cricket is big in this country, second only to football, and when the Chevrons are playing well, about 12 000 fans are seen packing Harare Sports Club to capacity and it’s important, given the status of this game here, that we should all work together to ensure we revive this sport.
We have the players, even though it is a relatively small base compared to what we had in the past, but we showed in Sri Lanka that we can play against the best in the world and we have to work hard to ensure we don’t take one step forward and five steps backwards.
The ICC chairman’s landmark visit is a huge vote of confidence in our cricket but we can’t expect him to work the magic, the battle for us to revive our game is firmly in our hands and together we can make a difference.