Zimbabwe is like the younger brother of the cricketing fraternity, always looked upon as someone to be humoured, and not to be taken too seriously.
But there was a time when Zimbabwe cricket was rich in talent, in the mid 90s, but that time came and went by, with not near enough youngsters with the same talent to follow it up and keep the mild success going.
These days, witnessing a Zimbabwe match is akin to finding water in the desert. There is simply not enough cricket, either in Zimbabwe or featuring Zimbabwe, for the public to cast their eye on.
The FTP is also not helping in that respect, but then you would be hard pressed to find teams that wish to tour a country like Zimbabwe. This is a place that has abandoned its own currency due to hyperinflation and uses currency from other countries. It’s not a safe place to visit either, with coups breaking out like flowers in spring.
As far as the cricket board is concerned, it too, like the general public, is skint and under heavy debt. According to media reports, the Zimbabwe players are forced to have meals at the stadium, because the ZC (Zimbabwe Cricket Board) has no money to spend, even on player meals!
The same is the story with their transport, with the players and team staff forced to fund their own trips from one venue to another. Some have arranged car pools while others rely on public transport. On the other hand, the Indian team, bankrolled by the world’s richest cricket body, relies on flights to travel across half the globe in under four months, touring multiple countries, in stark contrast to the hosts’ situation.
In such a poor financial situation, people in Zimbabwe and those associated with the cricket board would have been thrilled to hear the news that the Indian cricket team would be touring the war-afflicted country for a 5-match ODI series.
The gate receipts and sponsor money that the touring party would bring in could be a real shot in the arm for a cricket board that has fallen on hard times and an economy that has been crippled for years now.
ZC stands to make millions on account of the visiting Indians, but there is a growing feeling that the revenue earned from the 5-match series would be a pittance, barely enough to halt the spiraling debt.
Last year, it was reported that ZC had incurred a debt of US$18 million, and that there were ongoing issues of player wages not being paid on time, or in some cases, not at all. Reportedly, five players from the World T20 squad were among those who had not been paid their due.
There’s also the reality of touring nations not bringing in enough money to contend with, as selling television rights is not enough to recoup all the money spent on preparations for a team visiting the nation.
Plainly, having India over for a 5-match ODI series is simply a drop in the ocean that is the ZC’s debt situation.
Another significant development that hints at the problems in ZC is the cricket body’s decision to shift out of its headquarters at Harare Sports club last year, in a bid to bring down the costs. ZC eventually set up new headquarters in a property it owns in the suburbs of Highlands.
A statement from the board gives a sneak peek into the difficult conditions prevailing in Zimbabwe cricket: “Like every other company, ZC has had to review its expenditure within the framework of the current economic conditions. It does not make sense for an individual or company to pay rentals when they have a property that can be utilised for the same purpose.”
Reportedly, ZC made losses on all the 3 series it hosted last year, a damning indictment of the state of cricket in Zimbabwe. There are simply not enough means of income for the board, as a result of which the cricket structure in the nation is weakening at an alarming rate.
The last word is reserved for Grant Flower, a player from the heydays of Zimbabwe cricket and the team’s current batting coach: “We are struggling. I’m not sure when we will come out of it. I don’t know the exact answers, but Zimbabwe cricket is under heavy debt. If this continues, our cricket might soon lose its identity.”