All-black team symbolises Zimbabwe crisis

Published: Monday, April 12, 2004, 1:24 [IST]
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Harare:Zimbabwe's premier provincial cricket team Mashonaland, which is usually stuffed with Test players, was taking the field this weekend with an all-black eleven for the first time in its more than 100-year history.

In normal circumstances, and maybe in a few years' time, this might be a cause for rejoicing here, but it actually forebodes disaster for the sport in Zimbabwe this week.

The lack of whites in the Mashonaland side is the result of a boycott by four senior national cricketers of this premier inter-provincial team for its first-class match against Midlands in the central town of Kwekwe. Another senior player was dropped by the Mashonaland selectors.

The boycott was the first direct consequence of the simmering crisis over the ousting of national captain Heath Streak, which has split cricket here along racial lines.

Despite being instructed to play by Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) director Ozias Bvute, spin bowler Ray Price, all-rounders Sean Ervine and Travis Friend and senior batsman Craig Wishart all failed to show up for the first-class match. And Andy Blignaut, although fit and the best bowler in the country after Streak, was left out by the Mashonaland selectors.

Blignaut had joined Grant Flower and lawyer Chris Venturas in support of Streak at their lengthy crisis meeting with the ZCU chairman Peter Chingoka, chief executive Vince Hogg and three directors on Thursday.

At that meeting the ZCU refused to reinstate Streak as captain, though he was offered the opportunity to continue his career as a player only. Phone lines to his ranch were down on Sunday and no comment was available.

Flower and Blignaut will report back to the ZCU on Tuesday with the response of their fellow white Test cricketers to this decision.

Hogg said Sunday: "I have to say I fear the worst." That would be a mass walk-out on contracts, including by Flower, Blignaut, Price, Ervine, Friend, Mark Vermeulen, Gary Brent, Barney Rogers, Stuart Carlisle and Trevor Gripper.

If this happens, they would turn their backs on Test and international careers, leaving the selectors to choose from a pool of black players, most without international experience.

Streak triggered the biggest crisis to hit Zimbabwe cricket, since it became a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC), when he called last week for the removal from the selection panel of anybody who had not played first-class cricket at least, and of a TV commentator.

Streak was immediately sacked and there was no debate about his concerns.

His "demands" were made in a conversation with Hogg, just as an ICC top level delegation was in Harare to promote the development of cricket in Zimbabwe and in other African countries.

On Tuesday it will be known whether that development will continue with or without any senior white players in the national side.

The crisis is being watched with particular interest by Sri Lanka, which is due to tour Zimbabwe for two Tests and five One-day Internationals beginning in Bulawayo next week.

Streak is set to be replaced as captain by 20-year-old Tatenda Taibu, who will become the youngest ever international captain in the history of the cricket if he leads Zimbabwe out to face Sri Lanka in the first Test in Harare on May 6.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board told a British Sunday newspaper that England will go ahead with their controversial tour of Zimbabwe later this year, amid growing fears that cancellation would prove financially ruinous.

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