The sound off the bat was amazing.
While the World Cup final was playing out to its thrilling finish and farcical result, a low-key tour of Europe was finishing up by one of the nations adversely impacted by having a smaller World Cup: Zimbabwe won their final match of the tour to draw their T20 series against Ireland in Belfast.
That result was probably the highlight of an underwhelming tour for Zimbabwe. Preceding it had been two ODI series clean-sweep losses to the Netherlands and Ireland and a drawn T20 series in the Netherlands.
The news had come through just a few days earlier that the women’s tour of the same nations was being cancelled for financial reasons. Missing the World Cup was always going to hurt Zimbabwe and other smaller nations, but their issues go well beyond that.
The exposure, prize money and maybe sponsorship money that would have come from a World Cup appearance may have allowed the women’s tour to proceed, but it wouldn’t have halted the slide of Zimbabwean cricket. That tour would have included vital match practice for all three nations ahead of the Women’s T20 World Cup in early 2020 and the qualifying tournament next month in Scotland.
Zimbabwe’s crisis has been building for a long time, lowlighted by well-publicised hiatus from Tests between 2005 and 2011, and while Zimbabwe Cricket has undergone a clean-out of corrupt officials, they may have just been replaced by equally corrupt officials. There is little money in the game in Zimbabwe, and what there appears to be is squandered and is not reaching where it is needed. There are regular reports of players not being paid and there has not been a first-class competition held since 2016-17, with none anticipated for the 2019-20 season.
Zimbabwe Cricket is now under the hold of the government’s Sports and Recreational Commission (SRC). The SRC dismissed the entire ZC board in June, presumably as part of the response for failing to qualify for the World Cup. There are reports that at the next ICC meeting there may be a vote on suspending the nation due to the combination of financial mismanagement and breaching ICC rules by having such government interference in cricket.
The clearing out that occurred a few years ago was in part supposed to remove cricket from what was then the Robert Mugabe regime. Coming under the SRC has not aided the game at all. A suspension at this stage may be premature but not out of the question.
How much on-field results are driven by the disaster off-field is questionable, but such levels of dysfunction must have an impact. Zimbabwe last won a Test in November 2018 in Bangladesh, an ODI against a Test nation in March 2018 against Ireland, and a top-eight nation in any format in January 2018 against Sri Lanka in Bangladesh. That last Test win against a top-eight nation was against Pakistan back in 2013. This is a nation that gained Test status way back in 1992, although they did have that hiatus.
The question that arises is: how can global cricket assist Zimbabwean cricket while not aiding the government? The first things may be for the ICC to take over player payments directly and reduce funding to the administration by the same amount until ZC can show it is willing and able to put funding into the sport.
Some might argue that the nation should be allowed to fall by the wayside. There are only 12 full members and two of them are new. Can the game afford to drop a country?
Zimbabwe faces an existential crisis. If the international game is not to shrink, the likes of India, Australia and England have to act. Judging by the diminished World Cup and the decision not to include all nations in the World Test Championship the wealthy nations seem prepared to let the game lose a full member.