Harare: Zimbabwe cricketers are hoping that the long-running saga over their World Cup clash with England will not prove to be a fatal blow to their future in the sport. Having fought a series of battles to secure Test status, they were dreaming of using the six proposed first stage World Cup matches as a springboard for their long-term health and wealth. With England's insistence that it does not want to play its February 13 match in Harare, because it claims its safety is in danger, it's no wonder that players here have pleaded to be allowed to get on with the business at hand.
"We're just focussing on the World Cup and making the Zimbabwean people proud," said skipper Heath Streak. "We want to go out there and really fly the flag for Zimbabwe." Streak's farming family has been affected by Zimbabwe's political turmoil - his father was arrested in 2001 when his ranch was occupied under the government's controversial land reform programme. News reports have even suggested that several Zimbabwean players do not want World Cup matches to be played here, but Streak dismissed these reports.
"I'm not aware of who those individuals are, if there are any, I'm wary of the fact that they haven't named anyone," he told the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC). That spirit of determination has been harnessed down the years after a series of changes to the sport in the country. In the late 1980s, Zimbabwe pushed its Test credentials after dominating the ICC tournaments but it had to overcome stiff opposition from veto-holding nations England and Australia to be granted access to the elite club.
It was admitted in 1992, drawing its first match with India on home soil. The Indians have been held in high-esteem here ever since as a result and that status has been enhanced by the insistence of Saurav Ganguly's men that they had no problems in playing their scheduled match in Harare on February 19. But the exuberance of playing at the highest level of the game was tempered in the light of the Zimbabwe Cricket Union's (ZCU) attempts to establish a policy in 2000 of bringing more and more black players into the sport.
This has caused controversy with ZCU president Peter Chingoka having to fend off accusations of creating a progressive racial quota for the national team. He prefers to call it "goals." The debate was not helped recently by a government-controlled Sunday newspaper accusing white players of deliberately under-performing against Pakistan last November as a protest against President Robert Mugabe's land confiscation policy and anti-white rhetoric.