Paul Munyuki and Jonathan John—
AUSTRALIAN cricketers arrived in Harare for their first tour here in a decade, bringing down one of the major barriers that have kept Zimbabwe in relative cricket isolation, and proving once again that the power of sport will ultimately triumph over politics. Having been kept away by the politicians, notably former Prime Minister John Howard, in the past, the Aussies flew into the capital just after midday for a landmark tour that not only shatters the political barriers, but confirms Zimbabwe’s return from the cricket wilderness.
The serial world champions are the team with the biggest international profile, to tour Zimbabwe, since politics started pushing Zimbabwe Cricket closer to the edge with England leading a crusade for the isolation of the country.
Seven years ago, Howard banned the Australian team from travelling to Zimbabwe for a three-match tour, after Cricket Australia refused to bow down to his government’s pressure to voluntarily cancel the tour, and the former Prime Minister even offered US$2 million to CA to cushion them from a possible fine from the International Cricket Council.
The decision to bar the Australian team from touring here was celebrated by local opposition politicians.
Ironically, Howard visited Zimbabwe in June, 2010, just three years after banning the national team from touring here, without any sense of embarrassment for his sickening hypocrisy, begging Zimbabwe Cricket authorities to support him as he tried to shore up his failed bid to become the ICC vice president.
There was pressure, in some sections of the Australian media, in the past few weeks, for a review of the decision to fulfil the tour with Fox Sports claiming the Aussie team was turning itself into a joke by visiting this country.
“Zimbabwe is the basket case of world cricket and Australia will be part of the sad joke when it tours there in August,” Fox Sports claimed.
The Courier Mail, dubbing the contest between Zimbabwe and Australia as a classic showdown between the rich man and poor man, claimed only one of the four lifts at the hotel the Aussies would be staying, the Rainbow, was working last week.
While Aussie skipper Michael Clarke, said the Courier Mail, earns about US$2 million a year, Brendan Taylor, the best paid cricketer in this country, only earned US$120 000 a year.
News.com.au, on its website, ran a headline which screamed, “Zimbabwe, where the Australian cricket team is about to play, is not a very nice place.”
But former Zimbabwe fast bowler, Eddo Brandes, who is now a chicken farmer in Queensland, Australia, said it was only right that the Aussie team tour of this country should go ahead.
“You’ve got to start again somewhere and it’s good that other nations can go and play there. The team can up the intensity,” Brandes told news.com.au.
“If you don’t get exposed you never can improve your cricket.”
The Aussies get the series underway with a tie against the hosts at Harare Sports Club on Monday.
Mitchell Marsh, the 22-year-old right arm medium fast bowler, whose father Geoff once coached here, said they were eyeing the big prize when they take on the hosts and South Africa in the One-Day International triangular series.
“I think we have come here with the attitude that it doesn’t matter who we are playing, we gonna bring a good attitude, playing hard cricket and win every game,” Marsh said on arrival at Harare International Airport.
“As an Australian cricket team, you play every game to win and, hopefully, we can get off to a good start on Monday.”
Marsh was part of the Australia A team, which included David Warner, which toured here last year.
Australia coach Darren Lehmann feels they a have a huge challenge ahead of them as they are coming from a five-month break.
“Now the (challenge) is getting us back up to the skill level that we need to compete at international cricket. We’ve got Zimbabwe and South Africa and then we’ve obviously got a big test in the UAE.
“We’re going to be a bit rusty with the skills, but that’s okay. We’re going to make mistakes, but that’s okay. What we need to do is build and build and build to become a better Test side, a better one-day side, a better Twenty20 side.
“We have to find the right balance, whoever that is, whether that’s Phillip in or not in for the first game, we have to sum up the conditions.
“We have to make sure we get away to a good start, so we’ll be at full-strength early and then see what happens with the tournament from there, how the wickets play and whether it spins or doesn’t,” said Lehmann.
Australia are, however, without Warner who is preparing for the birth of his first child, Shane Watson who suffered an ankle injury last Saturday and Shaun Marsh who is recovering from elbow surgery.
But skipper Clarke believes his men will cope.
“I still think we’ve got options,” Clarke said.
“Obviously we’ve got Hughes, he’s in a purple patch at the moment, we’ve got Finchy (Aaron Finch) who batted beautifully in our preparatory game and has opened the batting for us, Brad Haddin has opened the batting for us and his numbers are very good as a one-day opener.
“He certainly gives us an option there. We will work out what we think is the best line-up for the conditions and the opposition we are playing and I think the wicket determines that more than anything else.”
“I think the (young players) will see it as an opportunity to be a part of our one-day team, to try and get their foot in the door and cement their spot —make it hard for the players that aren’t on this tour to get back into the team,” said Clarke.
With South Africa, ranked the best Test team in the world, in the country right now, the arrival of the All-Star Aussie team gives Zimbabwe a high-profile cricket tournament.