It is something of an achievement for Zimbabwe to even be present at this year’s ICC World Twenty20 as a prolonged player strike, brought on by the cash-strapped - some would say maladministered - board Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) repeatedly failing to pay the players their salaries and match fees, threatened their participation.
The players formed a union, the ZPCA, to enable them to speak as one voice and it took an ICC loan to secure their past dues and the presence of ICC CEO Dave Richardson in a meeting with the board to persuade them of future financial security.
It may all prove to be in vain. Last time out, in Sri Lanka, their tournament lasted just three days as they were thrashed by the hosts on the opening day and then by South Africa two days later. This time, their stay, albeit not mathematically speaking, may prove even shorter, with the result of their second day game against Ireland in the qualifying phase likely to prove crucial to their progression to the main competition.
Realistically, only Ireland or Zimbabwe will progress from Group B, with the Netherlands and the UAE seen as rank outsiders. Due to Zimbabwe’s woeful preparation for the tournament - their captain Brendan Taylor, for example, has not played a competitive cricket match this year - Ireland will be seen as favourites to cause the ICC Full Members an embarrassment. Allied to this, is that Twenty20 cricket is arguably Zimbabwe’s weakest form of the game - they have won only once in the last 14 months - while their most recent Test match, against Pakistan in September 2013, ended in a historic victory.
Such is Zimbabwe’s lack of match practice in 2014, that an impromptu tournament comprising unofficial T20 games, was organised in February to allow the selectors to pick their final 15-man squad after being granted an extension in the time allowed to do so by the ICC.
In truth, the latest player strike is just the tip of a very large iceberg that is the troubled history of Zimbabwe cricket. Many were hoping that the positive signs immediately following their readmission to Test cricket in 2011 would be built upon, but they have either been squandered or just failed to materialise depending on your point of view.
The depth of their troubles can be shown by the number of players from their 2012 World T20 squad that have either retired or simply left cricket due to their frustration at the direction the game is taking in the country. Graeme Cremer retired at the prime of his career and is contemplating a career in golf. Ray Price also retired, possibly with more still to offer, while Stuart Matsikenyeri retired aged just 30. Kyle Jarvis has left the country altogether to take up a county contract with Lancashire, and Craig Ervine is looking to use his Irish passport to build a professional career in that country. The likes of Charles Coventry - playing club cricket in Dubai - and Keegan Meth might well have been in the 2014 squad but for their dissatisfaction. In fact Coventry was named in a 30-man provisional squad by ZC before revealing via Twitter that he was bemused as to why he was included, stating he was not available for selection, although he hopes to play for his country again if the situation improves.
All of which sounds fairly depressing, but Zimbabwe’s cricketers keep giving you cause for optimism - their Test win over Pakistan last year perhaps the most tangible example. They are led by an admirable man in Brendan Taylor and are managing, rather better that their neighbours South Africa, to increase participation levels dramatically, possibly through necessity, among their black population. Natsai Mushangwe is a leg-spinner of immense talent, while Tendai Chatara has already shown himself capable of leading the seam attack.
They have also managed to retain an experienced core of players, with the Masakadza family continuing to bear fruit. Hamilton is, along with Taylor, their most reliable batsman, while Shingi is a developing all-rounder. Their younger brother Wellington - a leg-spinner - is also making waves on franchise scene of late. Vusi Sibanda, Malcolm Waller, Sean Williams and hard-hitting all-rounder Elton Chigumbura will form the bulk of an experienced middle-order, while former skipper and ever-present off-spinner Prosper Utseya will lead the spin attack.
If they progress from Group B, then they will go into Group 1 of the main competition that includes England, New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka.
2013 – LLWLLL
2nd March: lost to West Indies by 8 wickets in Antigua
3rd March: lost to West Indies by 41 runs in Antigua
11th May: beat Bangladesh by 6 runs in Bulawayo
12th May: lost to Bangladesh by 34 runs in Bulawayo
23rd August: lost to Pakistan by 25 runs in Harare
24th August: lost to Pakistan by 19 runs in Harare
Previous Tournament Performances:
2007: Didn’t progress from Group B despite beating Australia, lost to England
2009: Didn’t play due to political relations between them and hosts England
2010: Didn’t progress from Group B, lost to New Zealand and Sri Lanka
2012: Didn’t progress from Group C, lost to Sri Lanka and South Africa
Group B opponents: Ireland, Netherlands, UAE
17th March: v Ireland in Sylhet
19th March: v Netherlands in Sylhet
21st March: v United Arab Emirates in Sylhet
Squad: Brendan Taylor (captain), Tendai Chatara, Elton Chigumbura, Tafadzwa Kamungozi, Timycen Maruma, Hamilton Masakadza, Shingi Masakadza, Natsai Mushangwe, Tinashe Panyangara, Sikandar Raza, Vusi Sibanda, Prosper Utseya, Brian Vitori, Malcolm Waller, Sean Williams.
© Cricket World 2014