Zimbabwe’s cricketers are no longer the skinny nerds who get beach sand kicked in their face by the body builder in front of the girls. Those days certainly looked to have passed last weekend when the juniors from up north posted scores of 168 and 186 in the Pro20 matches, both record scores.
Friday’s 50-over match in Bloemfontein represents an altogether different challenge, of course, but at least we now know it will be worth watching in the hope of seeing a contest rather than what has amounted to a ritual clubbing of baby seals in recent years.
“I am very proud of the way the guys acquitted themselves last week and I see no reason to expect any less in the ODI series,” coach Alan Butcher said. “We will still probably need South Africa to have a bad day for there to be an upset, but we’ve come a long way in a short time and our graph is still going up.”
Pro20 skipper Johan Botha confirmed his status as a fierce competitor on the field and a gentleman off it by praising counterpart Elton Chigumbura’s team and scoffing at those who felt it might have been “embarrassing” to beat such rank underdogs by just eight runs, having scored a massive 194 in Kimberley.
“People shouldn’t have been surprised. This is not the Zimbabwe of a couple of years ago. They have become a really good team and deserve credit for their performances,” Botha said with a generosity and magnanimity untypical of an international sportsman.
Off the field there have been developments in both camps since last week and they extend to the boardroom as well as the personnel in the changing room. South Africa will catch a first glimpse of two young batsmen, Sean Williams and Craig Ervine, who could sustain the Zimbabwean middle order for years to come if they live up to expectations. The tourists will be up against three rather more seasoned campaigners in Charl Langeveldt, Albie Morkel and AB de Villiers.
Accusations of impropriety and “dirty” money have clung to the fabric of the Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) administration as surely as cigarette smoke for much of the past decade, whereas it is a far more recent development for Cricket South Africa (CSA) chief executive Gerald Majola and his staff. Both can claim to have made significant breakthroughs in the past few days.
The internal inquiry into allegedly irregular bonus payments and personal expenses at CSA finally started, albeit only in a preliminary format in which terms of reference and logistics were discussed.
At its head is the recently elected CSA vice-president, AK Khan. Despite talking to the Mail & Guardian for almost an hour, he requested not to be quoted, saying that only the players, president and chief executive should appear in the media.
He, did, however, make all the right noises — and stridently at times — about the need for good corporate governance and a reputation beyond reproach.
He insisted that he would stop at nothing in pursuit of the truth, would use every resource at his disposal and, in acknowledging his own lack of financial expertise, insisted that “pride” would never prevent him from asking for help. He also said he was a great advocate of transparency and welcomed any questions and contributions from all interested and concerned parties. All good. We watch and wait with baited breath.
Three years ago ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed commissioned an independent forensic audit into ZC’s finances after persistent rumours of nefarious accounting and misappropriation of millions of dollars of ICC funding.
The longer the rumours persisted, the more the mud stuck. Speed sent the audit team back to Harare to continue its search once its initial report failed to find evidence of corruption, but the final draft has not been published.
The “traditional” cricket media (nominally white and Western) assumed that it was covered up after pressure from India because it would have led to the expulsion of Zimbabwe from the game and therefore the loss of a valuable vote for the Asian bloc at the ICC head table. ZC chief executive Ozias Bvute and chairman Peter Chingoka have persistently denied the allegations and insisted on their innocence.
This week, finally, the report was leaked out of Dubai. The M&G is in possession of a copy and it would appear to corroborate Bvute’s claims of innocence. Well, mostly.
It says there is no doubt ZC broke the law with regard to foreign-exchange control during the 2000s but also noted that so did every other business which survived the ravages of hyperinflation and currency devaluation. But the report says there was “no evidence of theft or corruption”.
Now, perhaps, ZC can begin the long process of clearing its name and the even more difficult task of dissociating itself from President Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF. Because, until the rest of the world starts seeing it as an independent and autonomous sports body, the mud will continue to fly and stick — no matter how well Chigumbura and his reinvigorated team perform on the field.
Friday October 15 first ODI South Africa vs Zimbabwe at 2pm on SS2/HD; Sunday October 17 second ODI at 9am on SS2/CSN