Invest wisely for the future

You guys out there have no idea how much interest there is in cricket in Zimbabwe. This is not some sort of colonial outpost where cricket is the domain of the white colonial era. Yes, this country obviously has a colonial history and has an incredibly proud sporting tradition but let it be said right at the start, cricket is loved and passionately pursued by huge numbers across the social spectrum. If handled correctly Zimababwe could become a real cricketing powerhouse. So the operative phrase here is ‘handled correctly’, Looking through some of the comments from previous blogs the only contentious issue (aside from my comment on the shortage of petrol!) was someone’s exclusive need to find out about Brian Lara.

Well, inadvertently this comment has prompted a few observations that I have bottled up for some time now. They go to the heart of the massive efforts that are being made to uplift Zimbabwean cricket, ones that are hugely welcome, very deserving but also, in my opinion, in desperate need of review. Brian Lara was paid an extraordinarily extravagant $30, 000 for a fleeting visit during last month’s 20/20 Stanbic cup where he played only three games. Yet he hasn’t picked up a bat for the last three years and when asked to play for Surrey this year he was sent home because he couldn’t lay a bat on it in a net practice. At the opening function he rocked up late, walked around for five minutes and then went back to his hotel. It’s widely known that his interest in being here in Zimbabwe is to get back into India and the IPL.

I am concerned that the amount of money being invested here is being misdirected. I now hear that Lara has been contracted to become the national teams batting consultant. Grant Flower is the man in possession of that job and I can't think of anyone better than someone who has, along with his brother, formed the backbone of Zimbabwe cricket. He knows the players, knows the culture and certainly knows what it takes to be fit and disciplined. At 40 years old he’s the fittest cricketer I know. Listen, Lara was a batting genius and a certain hero of mine but geniuses seldom make good coaches and more so when you understand that Lara was roundly vilified as West Indies captain and his lack of interest in team spirit.

But this actually detracts from the point. My overarching concern is that Zimbabwe, trying to raise itself from the ashes, needs some wise heads to utilise the money they have. I’m a big believer that names won’t do it. You have to look at characters, people who have a feel for the African dynamic and, in this instance, people who have energy and are prepared to see their remit as perhaps stretching beyond their specific role. This is certainly true in Zimbabwe. I must tell all of you that there is terrific interest in cricket in this country. I mean real interest. I went to a township and saw kids playing with big sticks and a ball that was made of cowhide, with stones inserted inside it. This is the stuff of grassroots and Zimbabwe is filled with it. But you don’t need reputation to advance this interest.

In my humble opinion Zimbabwe needs to allocate their tight budget equally between national, franchise and school coaching. While Lara and a few others have commanded huge amounts of development forex in this country, we don’t even have enough balls to practice with at times. Some of our players for the Mashonaland Eagles hardly have the resources to travel to games and practices and this would no doubt extend to many players in the other franchises. For those that perhaps don’t know, Zimbabwe has a very good chance of advancing beyond it’s minnow status. I really believe this. Next year the national side will reclaim its Test status and there is no better time than now to put the right heads together and muster the resources to awaken this country’s proud sporting tradition, one that spawned so many excellent sportsmen; people like Mike Proctor, Nick Price and Mark McNulty.

Another fundamental positive from here is that Zimbabwe cricket is entrenched at schools, especially in the numerous private schools that exist. There’s an excellent and constant reservoir of kids coming through. Which brings me back to how the money is being spent. I have made the effort to speak to four such kids from such private schools (two of whom are in the national U-18 and U-19 sides) who spoke very clearly about the desperate need for quality coaching in these schools. A lot of the top coaches, upto 15 of them, have migrated south in search of greener wickets, so to speak. No country, let alone Zimbabwe, can afford that loss. So while, yes, it’s great putting money into the domestic structure, really it’s the academies and shools that need attention. South Africa’s top sportsmen have without doubt come out of one of the top sporting schools and trust me there are plenty of them. So my point is clear. I don’t believe the authorities should be pumping massive amounts into tired names, names that however excellent they were in their day, simply don’t have the understanding or energy to really embrace the type of spirit and willingness that is so needed to get this game back on track.

I believe that coaches here need to be incredibly strict and at times school masterly. Telling someone to get off their arse here simply doesn’t work. Compulsory early morning sessions must be instilled. These players must learn about there bodies and how far they can push their limits. Of course there comes an age and time when adults and sportsmen must no longer be spoonfed, and I’m all for a journey of self discovery, however I feel the building blocks need to be applied now through discipline and real structure. The same goes for Pakistan and West Indian cricket. For my part, I am immersing myself in the spirit and humanity that exists in this neck of the wood. This is a wonderful country and I think there is some very decent talent here. Zimbabwe is poised on the cusp of taking another step forward. So let’s not waste the precious resources.

Published 6 December 2010