When Zimbabwe took the field for their 100th Test match at the end of October, there was not only a feeling of freshness following the appointment of Heath Streak as head coach, but also of purpose.
In the past, the coming and going of various coaches has been akin to an American election: something for everyone to talk and get excited about, but unlikely to make much difference when the structure below remains so flawed.
For over a decade, there have been two key issues holding cricket back in Zimbabwe.
The first has been maladministration, which has seen Zimbabwe Cricket sink into a debt hole where most of its money is gobbled up by interest repayments.
The second is the absence of a domestic cricket structure that can adequately prepare players for the few international assignments that come our way.
While the first problem is yet to be resolved, and could continue to hold the game back, the second is starting to be addressed now that former Zimbabwe captain Tatenda Taibu is beginning to make headway in his new role as a development officer.
The past few seasons have seen franchise cricketers play just six first-class games, a pitiful amount, and only receive payment for six months of the year. This is no way to create cricketers that can hold their own at international level.
ZC have now elected to scrap the franchise system and return to a broader provincial setup, and the new season will run from November 22 through to August. As many as 40 players are expected to receive contracts ranging from one to three years, making them fully professional cricketers.
Furthermore, Streak and Taibu are trying to close the gap between domestic and international cricket by securing more games for the Zimbabwe A team, and more matches against Associate nations such as Afghanistan and Ireland
“Before, when you didn’t make the national side there was nothing below that, other than domestic cricket, or there were gaps of no cricket, which made it difficult for guys to get back in the side or showcase their ability,” said Streak.
“So that’s definitely something I’m going to create, and I’m also looking at succession planning, and where we see gaps (in the national side) and where we see youngsters, that will be able to fill them. That will reflect in contracts, in selections, and in age-group teams – working out what we need to keep supporting the national team.”
Meanwhile, Taibu is hoping that the new structures can stem the flow of talent heading overseas, maybe even reverse it.
While the likelihood of Brendan Taylor, Solomon Mire, and Kyle Jarvis being lured back is slim, it is the next generation that needs to be convinced that there is some future in Zimbabwe.
What may help is the encouragement Streak is giving to promising players trying to break into the national side, which has been dominated by a group of under-performing seniors for many years.
21-year-old fast bowler Carl Mumba became Zimbabwe’s 100th Test cap in the first Test against Sri Lanka at Harare Sports Club, and 22-year-old batsman Tarisai Musakanda can expect his opportunity soon – either in the second Test at the same venue on November 6, or in the tri-series that follows.
The first two games of the one-day triangular series, which also involves West Indies, will be played in Harare, before the series shifts to Bulawayo for the remaining matches.
Zimbabwe will play Sri Lanka in the series opener on November 14, before Sri Lanka play West Indies on the 16th at Harare Sports Club.
Image: Test debutant Carl Mumba receives his cap at Zimbabwe’s 100th test match.
Image Credit: Jekesai Njikizana.