ICC and CSA need to face Zim crisis

2008-03-15 00:00

A letter has arrived from a rising young Zimbabwean cricketer, a well-educated black player committed to the game and eager to serve his country. It is a letter from the betrayed, from a cricketer let down by wicked leaders. Nor was it the only correspondence to arrive from that community. Of course it is idle to suppose that those running Zimbabwen cricket care about anything except themselves. Not long ago a senior figure in Zim cricket said that he was not worried because “India owes us big time”. Meanwhile a reliable source says that, during the last World Cup, a ZCU official hurled abuse at Australian players. Altogether a nice bunch of fellers.

To its discredit, the South African Board has also befriended the cheats. From Percy Sonn to Ray Mali to Norman Arendse, senior black figures in local cricket have turned a blind eye to the activities of supposed comrades across the border. Indeed they have accused critics of racism, the sort of defence usually mustered by those incapable of presenting a compelling case. And so the cancer continues. Most of the greatest men the game has known have been black.

Naturally the young correspondent knows nothing about high politics, he just wants a chance to play the game to the best of his ability. After apologising for a long silence, he described the state of the game in his country. He could not attend practice sessions because he had no transport money, which was “a let-down”. Warming to his theme, he said that he was “saddened by the way cricket is run. The state of the fields is pathetic, the pitches are not getting rolled, fields are not getting cut and ZCU cannot even provide umpires. A lot of talent has been lost because the people running the game don’t care about the players. I just needed to get it off my chest.”

As much can be confirmed from a glance at the Cricinfo website. In a recent series of articles on the state of the game in Zimbabwe, Cricinfo published pictures of major club grounds. In most cases outfields, nets and pitches were wildly overgrown with hip-high grass and no sign of rollers or mowers. Apart from various school grounds maintained by well-organised institutions, and some of the international grounds, the cricket fields are in an abject state. The ZCU was given millions of dollars after the last World Cup.

Nor is that all. Statisticians complain that scorers are not provided at “first-class” matches, which makes it impossible to accurately record the figures. Inevitably declining standards off the field are reflected on it. The Zimbabwean national side were trounced in our domestic competition. Zimbabwe’s Under-19 side were beaten by Malaysia at the recent youth World Cup.

Nothing wrong with the sailors. Everything wrong with those on the bridge.

Far from welcoming the light shed on Zimbabwean cricket, ZCU authorities have refused to cooperate with the respected website. Worse, they have spread rumours about its leading figures. Fearing exposure, they have played the man and not the ball. And the worst elements egg them on, regarding them not as charlatans but as champions. But then, Mugabe is cheered even as young people die in his hospitals through lack of medication. Opportunism and scorn of black labour are the common threads. It is a complement to be attacked by such people.

Now the game awaits the results of the long-delayed forensic audit carried out on ZCU by a reputable company. KPMG is due to submit its conclusions to the forthcoming ICC meeting. It will not want to risk its reputation by signing off on anything slipshod. Presumably the rumours are false and senior officials have been co-operating. If not, and the report falters though lack of documentation, then the axe must fall. Meanwhile aggrieved past stakeholders say they will shortly circulate a paper outlining the iniquities of the incumbent regime. Not everything was put in the shredder. And money trails are not always so easily hidden. Obviously is it up to the accusers to put up or shut up.

Of course KPMG was not called upon to consider the state of cricket grounds, or nepotism at ZCU offices, or the inability to provide scorers or what proportion of the World Cup money was given to players, and under what circumstances. Nor is it empowered to look into threats to players, or the way players are not allowed to negotiate collectively. But KPMG are experienced campaigners, capable of opening up a can of worms. ICC officials have been stunned by the charming viciousness of ZCU bigwigs. Even black Zimbabwean politicians from both parties have been staggered by their nastiness.

Another letter arrived from a Zimbabwean cricketer. It, too, came from a talented young man. Owing to malnutrition, stress and poor treatment, he had collapsed and been rushed to hospital with an ulcer. Luckily he was living overseas and fell into good hands. His life was saved. Now his younger sister is on the critical list and he had to rush back with medicine and money. Already he has lost his younger brother and mother, and his dad had been driven to drink.

So many hopes have been shattered, so many lives have been destroyed. Meanwhile the bigwigs and their families live in scornful luxury in New York and London. The ICC fiddles while Zimbabwe burns. South African cricket takes the guided tour and refuses to look under the carpet. All of them have blood on their hands.

•Peter Roebuck is an international cricket correspondent who is based in the KZN midlands.

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