Zimbabwe cricket needs a saviour

Zimbabwean team celebrating after pulling off a stunning 24-run victory over Pakistan in the second Test at Harare © AFP

By Prakash Govindasreenivasan

In 2004, the Germany-based football club Bayern Munich handed out GBP 2 million to arch-nemesis Borrusia Dortmund when the latter was spiraling down with financial hardship that put a cloud of doubt over their very existence. Almost a decade on, Dortmund are stabilized but will not want to forget the period of financial difficulties they went through. Although the two million was only a small percentage of money that helped them stay up, it was the gesture from a rival club that set the precedent. Even as the chiefs at Dortmund played down the gesture when the two teams met in the Champions League final of 2012/13, the bailout speaks volumes of the way football functions across the world.

Shift focus to cricket and you have Zimbabwe, a team that continues to be engulfed in a financial strife. They have given themselves a reason to smile by getting the better of much stronger opponent in Pakistan over a span of five days of relentless cricket, but the future looks bleak.

They may have been an ecstatic bunch of cricketers who defied the odds on the field, but things have not been too rosy in the recent past. Former skipper Heath Streak, who had been roped in as the bowling coach had to part ways due to lack of finances ahead of the series against Bangladesh in April this year. Craig Ervine, who failed to reach an agreement with the Zimbabwe Cricket board moved to Ireland to play Club cricket and seek better opportunities in a country that is losing some of its best players to England. In the current series, the same bunch of players that got the better of the Asian giants in the second Test had threatened to pull out of the ODI and the Test series as the board had not paid them their due salaries for more than two months. The players were still human enough to extend their deadlines and were eventually paid by the board. Yet, they couldn’t avoid the loss of a talented fast bowler in Kyle Jarvis, who retired from international cricket to ply his trade in English County that will pay him enough to keep his family going.

“I really hope the fans and public can understand my reasons for leaving, as job security is the main factor.” These words from Jarvis before he headed to England underline the problem that Zimbabwe is currently faced with. If the board can’t promise their players a decent pay that will help them secure the lives of their family members, what motivation will they have to play on? The board needs to address this question at the earliest if they are to retain the current set of players.

The appalling disparity between boards and facilities was witnessed during India’s tour of Zimbabwe. While a victorious Indian side was ushered to the team hotel, the hosts had nowhere to go. The board was so cash-strapped that they couldn’t afford food and transport for their players. Yet, the same set of players turned up each day for another series and finished with a win each in the ODI and Test series for which they deserve thorough applause.

Zimbabwe cricket is in desperate need of a saviour. The International Cricket Council (ICC), along with its rich member countries have the financial capability to extend a helping hand to Zimbabwe a la Bayern Munich. Richer boards like the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and even Zimbabwe’s African compatriots Cricket South Africa (CSA) need to come forward and show signs of magnanimity. By no means should they treat this as charity, but a loan that the Zimbabwe board can repay over the years. It may have been easier to deal as the loan was a club-to-club transaction within the same country in German football, but cricket boards with enough financial muscles to flex should not find it hard to go ahead and bail Zimbabwe out of the current situation.

In March this year, the ICC sanctioned financial assistance worth 1.5 million USD to strengthen Zimbabwe’s pursuit of their future cricketers. But, the payment may not suffice as they also have to look after the needs of the current cricketers. For that purpose, the likes of BCCI, CSA and even England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and Cricket Australia can step forward and provide support.

Zimbabwe has a talented bunch of cricketers who, with the right resources and adequate incomes can perform much better and pose a threat to tougher oppositions. Unfortunately for them, it all boils down to how the board can improve the situation from here. The players did not stop short of celebrations when they overcame Pakistan at Harare, but for how long can they carry on like this?

(Prakash Govindasreenivasan is a reporter with CricketCountry. His Twitter handle is @PrakashG_89)