Talking Point - What Can Be Done To Save Zimbabwean Cricket?

Kyle Jarvis is the latest in a long line of cricketers to turn his back on the national team.
©REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte. Picture Supplied by Action Images

Yesterday’s decision by Zimbabwe fast-bowler Kyle Jarvis to turn his back on playing for the national side in favour of a county deal with Lancashire is the latest chapter in the game’s gradual decline in the country. The reason behind his decision is a straightforward one: he is a professional sportsman and is not getting paid enough or on time. Who wouldn’t leave in similar circumstances?

The truth is that Zimbabwe Cricket - the organisation running the sport in the country - is broke and heavily in debt. It simply cannot afford to pay players, maintain grounds, invest in grassroots cricket and run a first-class competition - things that it has to do for the game to survive.

Why is it in this position? Well, repeated controversies over the years - many linked to the precarious political situation in the country - have pushed away sponsors and led to players walking away due to lack of payment. The resulting paucity of results have seen even more sponsors leave and even more players depart for pastures new. It is a vicious circle. What also hasn’t helped is the feeling that players are seen as commodities, rather than human beings, by some of those running the game.

The repeated controversies are undoubtedly the underlying cause. The issue of race has always lingered either just beneath the surface or exploded through in fires of unhelpful rhetoric. One only has to read Henry Olonga’s autobiography to understand the length to which some players were used as pawns in a political game back at the start of the last decade. Admittedly some of their aims were laudable but the means were not and some of the administrators implicated then - including in allegations of corruption - are still involved now.

It is all too easy to blame administrators for failings in any organisation, but cricket as a sport seems riddled with more than its fair share of inept ones, so it is often appropriate to do so.

To be fair, the game in Zimbabwe would struggle financially even it were administered well. It has a small player and fan base - indeed one the few positives of the past couple of decades has been the slight increasing of this among black Zimbabweans - and few tours deliver a surplus; the recent visit of India being a welcome and notable exception. Most boards make their money from TV rights but who wants to pay to watch a losing team?

However, the game in Zimbabwe can survive. There is cause for optimism. Ireland and New Zealand are two countries that have relatively small fan bases but prosper due, especially in the case of the former, to good administration. Zimbabwe could have an even bigger fan base than those two if it continues to push the growth of the game into its less traditional homelands of Masvingo and Mutare et al.

A clean start is needed in the boardroom with new men and women, with only the game’s and not their own or political interests at heart, to the fore. This could inspire confidence among investors and sponsors and encourage more teams to tour. However, it is hard to see how this could happen while the hangman’s noose of debt hangs around its neck. Could the ICC and some of its richer members step into write off that debt on the condition that appropriate reforms are implemented? It is unlikely because there is little will, outside of Zimbabwe’s hard-hit fans and players, for change, but we can hope.

Do you agree? What do you blame for Zimbabwe’s woes and what should be done to rectify them? Do you agree that administrators are largely to blame? Join the discussion by leaving a comment below.

© Cricket World 2013

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