Harare, Zimbabwe Former Zimbabwean cricket captain Brendan Taylor was given a three-year suspension earlier this year for failing to report a match-fixing approach to a trip to India.
He made the trip in October 2019 where he received $ 15,000 which he claimed he was blackmailed into accepting by his hosts using a video of him taking cocaine.
The suspension brought the fate of players and the state of play in Zimbabwe, where cricket has a significant fan base, back into the spotlight.
Taylor, who accepted his offense, said he was under financial pressure because the players were not paid for six months around the time of his India trip.
At the time, the country was suspended by the International Cricket Council (ICC) due to government interference in the affairs of the governing body, Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC), which came after a government-appointed body, which controls all sports in the country. top ZC officials fired on several charges, including financial mismanagement.
ZC, which is often in financial distress but claims to have now completed the payment of large debts amounting to almost $ 20 million, has been forced to work under controlled funding from the ICC.
The ZC suspension in 2019 therefore meant that ICC funding was frozen and that players had to bear the heaviest of it.
The ICC suspension was finally lifted later that year after the sacked officials were reappointed.
Players were then awarded a lump sum for the six months they owed.
By early 2020, ZC announced that it had reduced salaries by 30 percent, which to date has been followed by frequent delays in payments.
ZC chief Tavengwa Mukuhlani defended the cuts when he unveiled the move two years ago, saying it was a necessary measure to “make sacrifices today and survive tomorrow”.
The delays, Mukuhlani explained to Al Jazeera, were due to the ICC’s strict financial controls.
He denied allegations of maladministration, saying he did well under the circumstances, especially after clarifying what he referred to as “legacy debt”.
“We are in a very healthy financial situation,” Mukuhlani told Al Jazeera. “We are the only [sporting] association in the country audited by one of the big four in the world. We are the only association that constantly publishes results. We are moving from strength to strength. ”
But the players are not entirely happy with the board’s handling of matters.
“I have played for Zimbabwe in very difficult circumstances in the past and we went for months without being paid,” said a senior player who requested anonymity.
“They need to improve their communication so that people can plan accordingly. Things have improved a bit, but there is just no consistency. My biggest problem with our administrators is that they do not know how to communicate. Last year, when we had salary delays, we just had to speculate. ”
Disillusionment and lack of confidence in the system also led to a serious exhaustion of talent, with many of the country’s smartest young players no longer finding the prospect of representing Zimbabwe attractive.
Dion Myers, a teenage prodigy and talented young Black player, made his Test debut in 2021. He also played three One Day International and eight T20s.
A former head boy at one of the country’s prestigious schools, St George’s College in Harare, and Zimbabwe’s captain at the 2019 u.19 World Cup, a national contract was almost guaranteed for Myers.
But he did not find it tempting and decided not to keep up.
Choosing to secure his future, the 19-year-old is now studying Agriculture at the Royal Agriculture University in Gloucestershire, England, on the advice of his family.
In 2018, Zimbabwe could not qualify for the 2019 World Cup, the first time since 1983 that they did not participate in the World Cup. The team is currently at the bottom of the ICC Cricket World Cup Super League, en route to 2023 World Cup qualification.
Given the current form, they may miss another World Cup which will be a major financial blow.
Former Zimbabwean bowler Gary Brent, who was recently appointed as the national women’s team coach, believes the country will be stronger if everyone available is allowed to contribute.
“I see cricket in Zimbabwe as I have seen it for the past 15 years,” Brent told Al Jazeera. “We have great talent, but we are not able to fully utilize and nurture that talent to be a fully competitive team in international cricket.
“It starts with grassroots level up to franchise cricket. It’s a shame we can not all work together to build a solid Zimbabwe cricket team. We must forget what happened, there is nothing we can do about it. If we work together, I am sure we will be extremely competitive. ”
Struggling with facilities
The grassroots level that Brent is talking about is no longer as vibrant as it was 20 years ago when cricket almost competed with football for the public interest.
Government schools such as Prince Edward and Churchill, which used to boast a large number of national team players, are struggling with facilities and now produce half-baked players – far from the likes of Tatenda Taibu, Hamilton Masakadza, Elton Chigumbura, Prosper Utseya – all former national captains joining the latter schooled with permission from ZC scholarships.
It is not just the schools that are struggling with poor infrastructure.
Across the country, club facilities, formerly cared for by the national association, are poor because members are unable to cover maintenance costs.
It’s a reflection of the club game itself that virtually does not exist, with seasons not coming to logical conclusions, even in pre-pandemic times.
The strength of club cricket was what fueled Zimbabwe’s competitive international series. Promotion to the first XI, to share a locker room with national team players, or to oppose international players in opposition, was something for a young player to appreciate.
This is a feature of Zimbabwean cricket that has been very difficult to talk about in the past tense by those who watched those days, such as Nick Chouhan, a former ZC board member in charge of development.
Chouhan, a one-time sports broadcaster and now a regular blogger on the history of sport in Zimbabwe, reckons the downfall of club cricket structures has hurt the national team.
“There is no formal league cricket structure now, they only play when they want to,” said Chouhan.
“Some players train but there are no matches. You can spend all day in the nets, but if you can not play proper games, it will not be the same. Years ago we had eight teams in the first league, eight teams in the second league, eight teams in the third league and six to seven teams in the fourth league. We played league cricket from September to March, and everything was complete.
“These days, many of our players go straight into the national team. In the other countries, guys play 200 to 300 matches before international cricket. “