Heath and hopelessness

Paul Potter Roar Guru

By Paul Potter, Paul Potter is a Roar Guru

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    Umpires have called it, ladies and gentlemen: there’ll be no Test cricket between Australia and Zimbabwe this year.

    Actually, it’s not the umpires who have made that decision but Zimbabwe Cricket. If it were the umpires, it would be the ICC’s decision, which points to why Australia will only be playing T20s in Zimbabwe – and why Pakistan, the other team in the tri-series, will only be playing ODIs and T20s.

    As Tim Wigmore wrote in 2016 – when Tests involving Zimbabwe had become so scarce as to result in their temporary removal from the ICC’s Test rankings table – “The ICC has no power to force teams to play Tests.”

    Wigmore is arguably the game’s premier analyst on the consequences of its economics and politics. When he concludes that it is by no means just a Zimbabwe problem and a warning sign for cricket’s powerbrokers, we should listen – but we shouldn’t forget to hold less powerful cricket boards responsible for their actions while sympathising with problems that arise from outside their control.

    For one, that overall trend of boards favouring short-form cricket, for financial reasons, is easily identifiable, as is the tendency of ZC to waste money.

    What journalists like Wigmore do is provide us the story behind the superficiality, and he has already done that in this instance. Which is why it’s worthwhile to go back to another line in that same article: “Many of the problems are self-inflicted.”

    ZC’s current, self-inflicted problem is their treatment of those they fired in response to their failure to qualify for the 2019 World Cup.

    Graeme Cremer was told to stand down from the captaincy, but his treatment – without wishing to sound flippant about the fate of a skipper who deserved better – is not the main travesty. No, it is the treatment of the coaching staff that deserves more anger, particularly the hand that has been dealt to head coach Heath Streak.

    When Streak and his coaching staff defied the order to stand aside or be fired, they were quickly subjected to the ultimatum.

    ZC’s chairman, Tavengwa Mukuhlani, implied to Daily News that Streak had practiced racism in his selectorial decisions, specifically stating that white players knew about Cephas Zhuwao’s dropping from the team in a World Cup qualifying match against UAE before black players, even the man himself.

    His assertion was strongly rejected by Streak on social media, who pointed to something that ZC had not done once in their treatment of him and the others who were fired: a justifiable process, which identified that he, bowling coach Douglas Hondo and convener of selectors Tatenda Taibu picked the team, with input from Cremer and no racial prejudice.

    As Streak acknowledges, it is not just about him, but it is worth looking at his career in greater detail to give a glimpse of the pattern of ZC’s maladministration he talked about.

    In 2004, he was fired as skipper for doing the very thing a captain should always do: stick up for his players. In return, they stuck up for him, and 15 players were absent for floggings – floggings that continued, despite intermittent returns from those who were considered persona non-grata, until Zimbabwe went into Test exile for a few years.

    One of those players was Ray Price, who, as Danyal Rasool reported, promoted a protest on his Facebook page. Admittedly, that is a poor measure of loyalty, but it is a measure. One sincerely doubts that anyone would miss Mukuhlani should he be sacked.

    Now, I don’t entirely agree with Price. He wants a board that is “made up of people who have played cricket for our country, black or white”. No objection to the last three words, but placing the qualification on prior national representation seems to unnecessarily limit the search for talent.

    Streak, for all the poor treatment he has received at the hands of Zimbabwe Cricket, will receive a termination package reported by Kevin Mapasure to be “close to $100,000” and is a bowling coach at the IPL.

    This is not to excuse ZC’s actions, but to point out he has money and a place to go in cricket. Their domestic cricketers, those below the level of Streak’s playing ability, had no recourse when the Logan Cup, Zimbabwe’s premier domestic competition, had to be called off before completion last year for financial reasons.

    Such a person, if they were of the mind to try their hand at cricket administration, would be acutely aware of the consequences of bad administration, and of what is and isn’t within their control.

    So, when Australia is playing against Zimbabwe, spare a thought for Heath Streak. But also spare a thought for the players who do not have his ability, because they are the ones who are ultimately paying and will continue to pay an even bigger price for ZC’s incompetence.

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