20 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Will Calypso Bring Fresh Air?

ZIMBABWE'S cricketers get their Caribbean tour underway on Friday, with the first One-Day International against the West Indies, giving the game a chance to focus on matters on the pitch after a period of boardroom turbulence. It's coach Alan Butcher's farewell tour, as he returns home to England after this assignment, and he has challenged his men to give him a befitting farewell present.

Butcher was disappointed that a lot of focus was given to boardroom issues, in the wake of an ugly row sparked by a controversial directive to guide the appointment of selectors, rather than team issues in the build-up to the tour of the Caribbean.

Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture, David Coltart, also sang from the same hymn book and said he was disappointed with the way ZC leaders handled the countdown to the tour of the Windies.

"I am very distressed by the conduct of ZC, which I think has been very damaging to the team in the run-up to this crucial series," Coltart told The Herald last week.

"If people really love Zimbabwe and cricket they will let this rest, at least until the team is back, so that the team don't have any further humiliation whilst on foreign shores.

"It is going to be hard enough as it is without the support of key coaching and fitness personnel being with them."

Batting coach, Grant Flower, bowling coach, Heath Streak, and fitness trainer, Lorraine Chivandire, were dropped from the tour.

While Coltart is right that attention should be focused on the team, and give the players the chance to perform without carrying a huge load of boardroom baggage, it's also true that hawks are also watching this tour with interest and preparing for a fight.

If the Zimbabwe team does badly in this tour and is humiliated, the swords will be drawn and battles will erupt, from every corner, and the ZC will be bombarded with criticism for once again coming short in preparing a team that can compete on the Test arena.

There will be questions, if the team is whitewashed, if we have the right panel of selectors and Givemore Makoni, the ZC convenor of selectors who survived a boardroom ambush masterminded by the Sports Commission under the orders of Coltart, will come under severe fire.

There will be a host of familiar questions and a couple of new ones:

Did we pick the right players and where we naïve, as a nation, to trust a man, who did not play cricket at international level, and hand him the responsibility of heading the panel that selected the players?

Was Coltart right to say that we need to have a chairman of selectors who has played for the national team rather than one, as is the case with Makoni, who never made it to that level?

Was the ZC wrong in rejecting an order from the Sports Commission to implement the directives guiding the appointment of national team selectors from February 1 this year, which would have thrown Makoni out of his job?

Did we prepare the team as well as we should have done?

Did the ZC's decision to drop Streak and Flower from the touring party back-fire on them with the expertise of the two technical men clearly missed on the tour?

Was captain Brendan Taylor right to voice his disappointment, over the omission of Flower and Steak from the touring party, even if the Facebook platform he used, as he conceded later and apologised for that, was not the correct one?

Was the team's fitness level the right one and, if not, how was it possible to monitor it on tour when the fitness trainer had been left behind in Harare?

Was the team focused enough, in the countdown to the tour, or did the boardroom sideshows, which ignited sensitive issues like racism, too much of a distraction?

In the event of a whitewash in the Caribbean, there will be scores of those who will take aim at the ZC and accuse it of running down a team that used to be competitive, in the '90s and at the turn of the millennium, and turning it into a punching bag for a lot of teams.

There will be scores of those who will find shelter in a nostalgic journey into an era of Streak, Grant, Alistair Campbell, Paul Strang and the series, coming as it does in the weeks after BBC Radio Five Live marked the 10th anniversary of the black armband protest, Andy Flower and Henry Olonga.

That was the team, they will say, as competitive as they come.

But facts are stubborn and records will show that Zimbabwe and the West Indies have played six Tests and the men from the Caribbean have won four and drawn two and the locals are yet to beat the Windies.

In ODIs, the two teams have met 41 times, Zimbabwe have won nine, lost 31 and there was one game that didn't have a result.

Interestingly, Zimbabwe's first tour of the Caribbean was at the turn of the millennium and the first Test, from March 16-20 in Port of Spain, Trinidad, produced the result that will demystify this flawed belief that the team of 2000, featuring the Flower brothers, Campbell, Streak, Olonga and company, was fine wine.

Just in case there is a sensational collapse, in a Test match by the Zimbabweans in the Caribbean this time around, don't be fooled it never happened before.

In that first Test in 2000, Zimbabwe bowled West Indies for 187, with Streak taking 4-45, and then posted 236 in reply, with Andy Flower unbeaten on 113.

There were ducks for Grant, Neil Johnson and Campbell but Zimbabwe had the advantage and when they bowled out the Windies for just 147, in their second innings, with Streak taking 5-27, it meant the visitors needed just 99 to win the Test.

But Zimbabwe were bowled out for just 63, as the West Indies staged a remarkable fightback, inspired by Curtley Ambrose's 3-8 in 11 overs, including six maidens, and Franklyn Rose's 4-19 in 13 overs.

Grant, scoring 26, was the only batsman who went into double figures in a sorry scorecard that featured Johnson (3), Trevor Gripper (3), Murray Goodwin (8), Andy (5), Campbell (6), Stuart Carlisle (3), Streak (0), Brian Murphy (0), Olonga (0) and Mpumelelo Mbangwa (0).

Extras, which contributed nine runs, were the second best score.

It was Zimbabwe's lowest Test score, since its admission into the exclusive club, and it took another five years, in the depth of the player rebellion, for the locals to suffer a worse pounding as they were bowled out for 54 by South Africa in Cape Town on March 4, 2005, and 59 by New Zealand at Harare Sports Club on August 7, 2005.

Zimbabwe were also blown away, in the second Test by the Windies in Kingston, Jamaica, as they lost by 10 wickets.

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