Zimbabwe players celebrate victory over Pakistan on September 14, 2013 during the fifth day of the second Test at the Harare Sports Club. (Getty Images)
A desperate attempt to steal a non-existent single to allow Misbah-Ul-Haq to retain strike, led to the inevitable run-out of Rahat Ali. It was a typical run-out dismissal involving a tail-ender; reeking of indecision and lack of trust.
And that triggered wild celebrations from the young Zimbabwean side. The hosts had, after all, registered its first Test win against a team other than Bangladesh in over 12 years. The win was even more special as it came amidst adverse circumstances.
The players and the board were at war due to non-payment of salaries and the newly-formed players’ union had threatened to boycott the series. It was only after several backroom discussions and negotiations that the players agreed to take the field.
The victory was appreciated all over the cricketing world, and the Zimbabwean cricketers were rightly hailed for putting up a brilliant show despite the financial crisis. But as the euphoria of the historic win sunk in, it dawned upon everyone concerned that the current season, for all practical purpose, is over for Zimbabwe.
The Sri Lankan team was scheduled to tour the African nation in October to play two Tests, three ODIs and two twenty20 internationals, but the cash-strapped Zimbabwe Cricket wrote to its Lankan counterpart, asking to postpone the tour.
After incurring losses from the Pakistan series, the board was simply not in a position to host another tour. In fact, such is the paucity of funds for ZC that it recently had to let go the bowling coach Heath Streak and part ways with youngsters Craig Ervine and Kyle Jarvis, who left the system for greener pastures elsewhere.
The most frustrating element in the whole saga is the fact that financial constraints have become a recurring issue for ZC. The establishment was forced to withdraw from the unprofitable Test arena for almost six years but were allowed to remain a full member of ICC, making them eligible to enjoy monetary benefits from the ICC. Despite that the association finds itself in debts of $18 million and seems caught in a viscous tangle from which it is unable to wriggle itself out.
On their return to the Test fold after the self-imposed exile, Zimbabwe showed that they still have quality within their ranks as two of their elder statesmen, Hamilton Masakadza and Brendan Taylor, notched up impressive centuries to help the side register a comprehensive 130-run win over Bangladesh.
The team, however, was left starving for action at the highest level, and it has since been a stop-start affair. They had to be content with one-off Tests against Pakistan and New Zealand before being left in the lurch again in 2012. They had to endure a 12-month period of idleness during which the only international action they had was two twenty20 games in Hambantota during the course of the last twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka.
In comparison, the current year has been quite eventful as they toured West Indies for two Tests before hosting India and Pakistan. Though a new look Indian team routed them 5-0 in the ODI series, the positive effect of exposure at the highest level was there for all to see. Zimbabwe showed steady improvement in their game against the world champions, which culminated in wins in an ODI and a Test against a full strength Pakistan side.
Zimbabwe’s next international engagement will be in the forthcoming twenty20 World Cup in 2014 in Bangladesh, after which Zimbabwe Cricket is contemplating a tri-series along with Australia and South Africa. Not only will it leave Zimbabwe without any cricket for six months, but also stall the progress it had in its standard of cricket in the last couple of months.
While it is easy to criticise ZC for failing to take care of even the basics – by paying its cricketers and the administrative staff – it should be noted that the economy of the country isn’t in great shape either.
It would be unfair to evaluate the cricket establishment in isolation and expect it to remain insulated from the financial turmoil in Zimbabwe. The inconsistencies of the surroundings are bound to have a bearing on how the cricket board works.
In such scenario, the ICC must step in and along with the Zimbabwean board it must work a way out of the present predicament. May be it can advance the annual grant it is supposed to give or help organise tournaments in the country, which will make cricket popular in Zimbabwe and in turn attract sponsors for ZC. All this while, it should also be ensured that money trickles down to the lower rungs of the system as well and the domestic structure remains in good health.
Though other boards – who are in better financial condition – have no obligation towards ZC, they can loan some finance in this hour of need or offer to jointly host a bilateral series in Zimbabwe.
At a time when the ICC is making lofty claims of attempting to save Test cricket with the help of World Test Championship, and increase the global presence of cricket by taking it to untapped markets through the Twenty20 version, one of its biggest priorities should be to ensure that the game doesn’t suffer in the territory of any of its full-time members, which in all honesty, is an extremely exclusive club.