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It’s just not cricket!

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When will the comedy of errors at Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) ever end?

CONWAY TUTANI ECHOES

If you try to process what’s going on — on and off the field — you would be constipated. Zimbabwe could once again be on a free-fall to become the punch bag of international cricket. Any cricket-playing nation out to end their losing streak and break winning records will more than relish a match-up with Zimbabwe in the current atmosphere. Why should a richly-sponsored sport and enthusiastically supported team be in such a sorry plight?

From the beginning, cricket was defined as “the gentleman’s game”, meaning no sledging, cheating, bodyline bowling, temper tantrums or excessive appealing. This, in turn, spawned this saying: “It’s not cricket”, meaning unsportsmanlike conduct in sports or life in general; having something that is unjust or plain wrong done to someone or something; not right, not fair.

Indeed, we need to establish whether there is any chicanery going on or not. It’s not being paranoid.

The worst-case scenario is that there could be match-fixing (called spot-fixing in cricket) at work. Spot-fixing involves a player agreeing to perform to order by pre-arrangement. For example, a bowler might deliberately bowl consecutive wides in his second over; or a batsman could make sure he does not reach double figures.

Tim May, the CEO the international players’ union FICA, believes – along with several influential figures in the game – that the number of Twenty20 (T20) matches now being played could tempt players to take money from bookmakers in return for spot-fixing.

T20 cricket is particularly susceptible to this type of match-fixing because so much happens so quickly that individual performances are soon forgotten or dismissed as inconsequential.

This can escalate. Wrote former England captain Nasser Hussain: “One minute you’re conceding a pre-arranged number of runs in a bowling spell, the next you’re throwing an actual match” – like it’s said the Australia-Pakistan Test in Sydney in 2010 was fixed.

And what can stop a whole Test series being thrown?

The chaos and instability within cricket makes Zimbabwe a prime and easy target for match-fixing.

Yes, questions can legitimately be raised especially after ZC split the captaincy between Test and one-day internatonal versions of the game. It’s a legitimate question to ask because their football compatriots have done that and players who didn’t play ball were dropped or sidelined.

The Asiagate match-fixing scandal driven by football officials, players and journalists between 2007 and 2009 stands out. Warriors fans filled stadiums and screamed their patriotic voices hoarse not knowing they were being taken for a ride as many results had been pre-determined to fatten the pockets of those in the know. Indeed, sport can bring out the best and the worst in human spirit.

One would like to believe that Zimbabwe players have been plainly dismal of late, not be tempted into thinking that there could be some spot-fixing going on. Spot-fixing has contaminated cricket since the introduction of the lucrative Indian Premier League, a T20 tournament where different franchise teams compete for the title, in 2008.

But if corrective and urgent action is not taken by the local cricket authorities to improve results, people might be inclined to smell a rat because what’s in it for the players to routinely get walloped like that and be seen raring to go for another massacre?

Things have not been made any easier by abrasive national cricket team coach Stephen Mangongo, who does not at most times exercise due sensitivity, tact and, it must be said, maturity for one in a position of leadership and accountability to the whole nation.

There is total absence of man management skills which is essential in a team sport set-up like cricket. The sooner they sort out this mess, the better for everyone.

Wrote cricket publication WisdenIndia: “It’s common knowledge that Mangongo coaches by emotion. He shouts at his players and he swears at them and he tells them that if they don’t like it, they should stop screwing up.” So much for motivation! You don’t go out of your way to antagonise players and then expect the very same players to produce their best for you.

Coaches should do exactly and only what they need to do, not impinge on players’ rights as if they own them.

There is need to repair the fractured relationships; and to create trust in this necessary and important process of integration. You don’t ring too many changes too soon.

It could be said that ZC is on a self-demolition job and doing the best of it. Mangongo, besides being in the habit of publicly dressing down his players, appears to be in a hurry, but good things come to those who wait.

Zimbabwe can’t suddenly be a world beater after being thrown out of Test cricket for all those years. WisdeniaIndia hit the nail on the head: “This lack of understanding of international cricket’s realities cuts to the core of the problem in the Zimbabwean game at the moment.”

What was needed was a coaching team without any connections to the previous administration or loyalty to any section of the players.

Such a team — being a clean break from the past — would have arrived without baggage and/or prejudice. Now we are not only saddled with more of the same, but the worst of it. Along with Zifa, ZC has been the most political sports governing body in the country and the results are there for all to see: Chaos, favouritism, non-transparency, incompetence – and corruption.

It’s just not cricket!

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