26 January 2013

Zimbabwe: David Coltart's Lost Cause

AT the beginning of the week we had another episode to the ongoing personal war between the Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture, David Coltart and national convenor of cricket selectors, Givemore Makoni.

This follows a directive by Coltart that national selectors be former national team players.

From the arguments put across by those involved, it looks like cricket was the main reason behind this directive, which is now being panel beaten following the debate it sparked.

Coltart's directive is set for implementation from February 1, to coincide with the final preparations for Zimbabwe's cricket tour of the West Indies -- the first since 2006.

I have been looking at what Coltart has been telling us and what he wants to achieve through this directive. He says he wants this directive to help turn the Zimbabwe national cricket team into a winning team.

But my problem with the directive is that it avoids the real challenges facing cricket and reduces national interest to a national selector instead of the development of the sport.

As things stand, we can have a five-man selection panel that includes Duncan Fletcher, Brian Lara, Shane Warne, Shaun Pollock and Ian Botham but still continue losing international matches.

The problem with our cricket at the moment is NOT with a selection panel.

The problem lies with the development of the game, moving it from an elitist, discriminatory sport that it has been to an all-inclusive discipline that has a wide selection base.

That Zimbabwe cannot win international matches has NOTHING to do with Makoni or Stephen Mangongo.

Losing is a culture that has been there from the days the national team was virtually all-white and even had Coltart's desired selection panel.

We attained Test status way back in 1992, but we only have NINE wins out of 87 matches and these have come against just THREE sub-continent countries -Bangladesh (five times), India (twice) and Pakistan (twice).

The success against Bangladesh is straightforward because they attained Test status almost a decade after us and thus were whipping boys -- especially outside the sub-continent -- when we got matches against them.

The period between 2001 and 2004 is our best in terms of Test results because that is when we recorded those five wins against Bangladesh.

So traditionally we've never been a winning team.

Losing is a habit.

The best we have achieved is being competitive, especially in limited overs cricket where matches are decided by one moment of brilliance or madness.

In one-dayers, Zimbabwe has won just 107 matches out of 407.

What takes us to three figures are teams like Kenya (25 wins out of 32) and Bangladesh (26 wins out of 56) but our record is pathetic and it begs for the authorities to pay attention to real cricket challenges.

We are in an elite league of Test-playing nations and our focus should be reflective of that status.

Without a large pool of players to choose the national teams from, we will remain minnows and that is why even the so-called best cricketers to emerge from this country produced poor results.

It is a problem that can NEVER be solved by a selection panel or convenor of selectors.

It is a problem that needs long term planning focusing on development.

And this should be where the Sports Minister comes in -- not worrying about individuals occupying national team positions.

As the Education Minister, Coltart has the best post to help in the development of the game for the benefit of the country in 10 years time.

Actually he has had the best post since 2009 and had he started in earnest then we would have been three good years into development.

Given that cricket talent is best nurtured at Primary School level, Coltart's ministry would have come up with a directive (similar to that given to the Sports Commission on Makoni) that -for example- there be at least THREE schools per district where cricket is a key sport.

That would mean having the desired cricket fields for that level and the deployment of specialised cricket "teachers", otherwise known as development coaches.

Having such a high number of Primary Schools nurturing cricket talent would, in the short term, widen the selection base for the age group teams.

This would then be spread to the Secondary Schools to then create a pool of talent for the national Under-19 team and domestic reserve and even main leagues.

Such a development programme will produce real cricket talent that I believe is there in the country.

When we have that luxury then we can start worrying about who occupies what post in the selectors panel.

Every other Test country worries about its pool of players before looking at membership on the selection panel. Australia have been in the game for more than a century and not long ago they were Number One in both Test and one-day international championships.

They were the Invincibles.

But since the departure of key players like Glen McGrath, Shane Warne, Jason Gillespie and Adam Gilchrist they have become average.

It is now fact that Australian cricket's golden era is now past us and they might never reach those levels again.

They are currently 3rd in both the Test and ODI championships and a distant 7th in T20 championships.

It might even be another three years before they get closer to the number one position in either Test or ODI's.

But we are talking of a country with such a large pool of quality players and a world class league for first-class cricket.

And despite Australia sliding down the Test and ODI championship rankings, Cricket Australia still appointed a person with just SIX Test caps to his name to head the selection panel.

We are talking of Australia where 11 cricketers have played a minimum of 100 and maximum of 168 Tests while 33 have played between 50 and 96 Tests!

Another good example is India.

They are facing similar challenges and cannot be considered fierce even at home, yet traditionally the sub-continent has been a graveyard for touring teams.

When they lost a Test series to England late last year, India argued that they are rebuilding the side after retirements by key players.

Captain MS Dhoni said:

"We are going through a tough time, we are going through a stage where we will have to see what will work for us.

"A few big players for us have left us. Youngsters coming up will have to fill the gap, and seniors will have to take extra responsibility till the juniors start getting runs or start taking wickets."

Here are two Test giants with a winning habit that are going through difficult periods despite having vast pools of players to pick their national teams from.

Coming to Zimbabwe, the team would have been somewhere had it not been for the disturbances of 2004, which resulted in the country voluntarily pulling out of Tests.

Problems with the rebel cricketers started just when Australia were about to tour and Zimbabwe were deprived of what would have been a historic home Test series against the world's best cricketers at that time.

Thus the little gains of integration and development were lost, the situation further worsened by lost revenue and the harsh economic environment leading to 2009-10.

So in terms of progress Zimbabwe Cricket has been stuck in the mud and they need a more challenging calendar of Test matches, not one odd tour per year.

There is need to make sure that the franchise system gets stronger and the teams get more resources to make the various competitions tougher.

That makes the Cricket Committee even more crucial. Remember this is the committee that shapes the future of the game in Zimbabwe.

It is also the one whose policies can create problems in the game like was the case last year when Alistair Campbell's committee controversially barred Vusi Sibanda from touring New Zealand.

We must have a set-up that DOES NOT allow a national cricket captain to go and play Twenty20 cricket in Bangladesh ahead of a Test tour of the Caribbean, especially when the ideal first-class tournament (Logan Cup) is taking place at home.

There are more controversial decisions that this Cricket Committee has made in recent times that will take our game backwards, to the pre-integration era.

l There are NO more scholarships for promising cricketers at institutions like Churchill. Thus cricket will soon been restricted to private schools only. Back to square one!

l The CFX Academy -built by Zimbabwe Cricket- that was meant to help upcoming cricketers develop has now gone private and disadvantaged players no longer have access to quality facilities.

The centre is no longer user friendly.

l The Cricket Committee has made between 60-70 percent development coaches redundant. For instance, Harare province now has just six or seven development coaches.

Ideally the province needs at least 30 development coaches. So effectively the production chain is being killed and in five years the country will start feeling the effects.

l In the past there would be an average of 18 contracted players per franchise but the number is now down to between 10 and 12.

l The Twenty20 tournament discriminates against the very local players it should benefit. There are reports that all the local players got was US$20 per day as allowances over nine days.

Foreign players are understood to have signed contracts that earned them figures as high as US$3 000 to US$10 000.

In the end, we have a tournament promoting television and not the domestic game and its players.

So when a proper analysis of the challenges facing cricket in the country is done, the issue of who sits on the national selection panel will not even occupy the first TWO pages of the list.

And what is needed is for Minister Coltart and stakeholders to attend to the real cricket issues.

Once development and integration are fully implemented then the composition of the selection panel will never been an issue.

Had Hosiah Chipanga been familiar with cricket he would have dedicated his song in which a person in authority wastes time chasing after a fly that is 'feasting' on an open wound instead of ensuring that the would is healed.

Once the wound heals, the fly will never been seen!

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