How cricket is at a crossroads in Zimbabwe


Harare, Zimbabwe – Brendan Taylor, former Zimbabwe cricket captain, was handed a three-year ban earlier this year for failing to report a match-fixing approach from a trip to India.

He made the trip in October 2019 where he received $15,000 which he claimed he was blackmailed into accepting by his hosts using a video of him taking cocaine.

The suspension has brought back into the limelight the plight of players and the state of the game in Zimbabwe where cricket has a significant fanbase.

Taylor, who accepted his offence, said he had been under financial pressure because the players had not been paid for six months around the time of his India trip.

At that time, the country was suspended by the International Cricket Council (ICC) for government interference in the affairs of the governing body, Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC), which came after a government-appointed body, that controls all sports in the country, fired top ZC officials on several charges, including financial mismanagement.

ZC, which is often in financial hardship but claims to have now completed payment of huge debts running into nearly $20m, has been forced to operate under controlled funding from the ICC.

The ZC suspension in 2019 therefore meant ICC funding was frozen and players had to bear the brunt of it.

The ICC suspension was eventually lifted later that year after the sacked officials were reinstated.

Players were then awarded a lump sum for the six months they were owed.

By early 2020, ZC announced it had reduced salaries by 30 percent, which was followed, until the present, by frequent delays in payments.

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ZC chief Tavengwa Mukuhlani defended the cuts when he revealed the move two years ago, saying it was a necessary measure to “make sacrifices today and survive tomorrow”.

He rejected allegations of misadministration, saying he had done well under the circumstances, especially after clearing what he refers to as “legacy debts”.

“We are in a very healthy financial situation,” Mukuhlani told Al Jazeera. “We are the only [sporting] association in the country that is audited by one of the big four in the world. We are the only association that constantly publishes results. We are moving from strength to strength.”

But the players are not totally satisfied with the board’s handling of things.

“I have played for Zimbabwe under some very difficult conditions in the past and we have gone for months without being paid,” said a senior player who requested anonymity.

“They need to improve their communication so that people can plan accordingly. Things have improved a bit, but there is just no consistency. My main issue with our administrators is that they don’t know how to communicate. Last year, when we had salary delays, we were left to just speculate.”

Talent drain
Disillusionment and lack of confidence in the system has also resulted in a serious talent drain, with many of the country’s brightest young players no longer finding the prospect of representing Zimbabwe appealing.

Dion Myers, a teenage prodigy and gifted young Black player, made his Test debut in 2021. He also played three One-Day Internationals and eight T20s.

A former headboy at one of the country’s prestigious schools, St George’s College in Harare, and Zimbabwe’s captain at the 2019 Under-19 World Cup, a national contract was almost guaranteed for Myers.