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Zimbabwe’s failure to secure a place in the 2019 World Cup is bringing its full effects to bear on the beleaguered Test nation.
The perennial strugglers would have a hard time keeping pace with the game’s elite even if the game was administered perfectly but as it stands the cash-strapped Zimbabwe Cricket organization have dug themselves into a massive hole.
Zimbabwe Cricket require constant financial aid from the ICC and have therefore been asked to adhere to certain standards but you have to feel somewhat for those tasked with pulling cricket out of its quagmire in the country.
The sacking of Tatenda Taibu and disbanding of his Rising Stars academy effectively hamstrung Zimbabwe’s talent production conveyor belt and the removal of captain Graeme Cremer and coach Heath Streak alienated the core group of players.
Zimbabwe Cricket spent much of 2018 at odds with its players in a pay dispute as the cash-strapped board left player and staff salaries unpaid for several months. In that time promising fast bowler Blessing Muzarabani turned his back on international cricket in favour of a Kolpak deal with Nothants and arguably their best player, Sikandar Raza terminated his own contract in order to play T20 Cricket in Canada. Raza has since resolved his issue but Muzarabani says that he does not intend to play international cricket again.
Having come through all of that Zimbabwe found a way to be competitive in a short limited overs tour of South Africa, though they could not register a win. For their efforts Sean Williams and young leg-spinner Brandon Mavuta were picked up to play in the Mzansi Super League.
In Lalchand Rajput Zimbabwe Cricket have secured a world class coach with a proven international contract and his work appeared to be taking root and in November they would win a Test match in Bangladesh and share the series.
That series was the last cricket Zimbabwe have played to date and their next confirmed fixture in any format is in July, after the 2019 World Cup. The World Cup will be the first played without Zimbabwe since they first featured in the showpiece in 1983.
The IPL window and World Cup preparations have left Zimbabwe at a want for proverbial dance partners. Zimbabwe Cricket has admitted that they cannot afford to host Test cricket and that was before the country was hit with its second period of hyper-inflation in ten years.
Zimbabwe cricket will host the Africa leg of qualifying for the 2020 Women’s T20 World Cup in May of this year.
In January former skipper Graeme Cremer put his cricket career on hold and relocated to Dubai to be with his wife who is a pilot. The reality is that Zimbabwe Cricket cannot expect professional cricketers to hang around if they aren’t going to be paid.
Ireland and Scotland also missed out on the World Cup but the newest Test nation and associate member benefit from their geographical proximity to hosts England, both will play host to warm-up matches and ODIs in the build up to the tournament while Zimbabwe have to wait until the party is over.
Zimbabwe failed to qualify for the World Cup having come within a win of achieving a place, in an illustration of how cruel sport can be, a single batting collapse against the UAE has put the future of cricket in the Southern African nation at serious risk.
Through the retirements and the departures cricket continues to be played in Zimbabwe at a domestic level with Mountaineers clinching the Logan Cup last week.
Zimbabwe Cricket will endure in some form or another for the foreseeable future but that will depend on the generosity of the ICC and the tenacity of their own players.
The ICC have the leverage to demand a review and structural overhaul of Zimbabwe Cricket which would give the game a much needed lifeline.
Players like Mavuta and Raza need to be testing themselves against world class opposition on a regular basis, but are only able to do so when they can land T20 contracts, the cricketing world can do better by Zimbabwe even if their cricket board are prodigal.