Bilbo Baggins, caught between a rock and a hard place would have empathised with Zimbabwe cricket when he was asked, “What has it got in its pocketses?”
But where his acquaintances would hide behind some stolen treasure, perhaps in future optimism, there doesn’t appear to be any such reassurance for Zimbabwe at present. The game in that country is once again caught out in the open, with not a shrub in sight.
So what has it got in its pocketses?
With the just ended tri-series in Bangladesh wit Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe mercifully fading into another dim memory of ineptness by all teams involved (only the final sparked, and still score remained sub-200), and the season looking yet again looking thoroughly short of matches for the last ranked team, one has the familiar feeling that the answer to that question remains: not a lot.
The silence emanating from all things cricket in Zimbabwe—national, provincial, the virtually non existent club game—makes their now far off return to Test cricket almost a fantasy.
Five years after getting rid of all the experienced former players and administrators by Ozias Bvute and Peter Chingoka, there is no sense of fresh start still, or even a new season; just the unmerciful lampooning by critics of a national coach accused of being dull and unimaginative: the national team hasn’t reached a score of 220 in seven innings of international one day cricket.
Lat month the Sri Lankan captain was unequivocal about where the blame lay—a lack of match practice—for the home team batsmens' lack of aptitude in an earlier tour to Zimbabwe where the visitors limped home 5-0 in a one day series.
Limped, because after the thrashing of the Chevrons in the first two matches; and where abler teams would have snuffled the fight out the home side, the visitors barely got away it the next three.
Put that way, it was Zimbabwe who lost the next three rather than Sri Lanka who won them, and got whitewashed instead of coming out 3-2 victors.
This, then, is what we have now learnt of this Zimbabwe side. Firstly after conceding no more than 225 an innings in the last ten matches, six of them against Kumar Sangakkara, Sanath Jayasuriya and company, they have a decent attack in Elton Chigumbura, Edward Rainsford and medium pacer Tawanda Mpariwa, who has been quickest to 50 wickets in Zimbabwean cricket history, faster to the mark than even bygone legend Eddo Brandes (England and David Lloyd would remember him well); but albeit one which is also opened by their captain and spin bowler Prosper Utseya at a miserly economy rate of four runs an over and a strike rate that is climbing down every time.
Secondly, their batting is profligate when it should be miserly, and constipated when runs are badly in need: should Vusi Sibanda retire now or should he be sent to the subcontinent for an extended stay until he learns to bat at spin bowling?
After all, it seems unforgivably criminal that such a lavishly gifted player should spend days practicing a defensive shot only to come out days later off a botched pull shot.
When will batsman Hamilton Masakadza, deified by Andy Flower as a teenager still to make his debut, reveal himself as the next Dave Houghton?
Should their managing director Ozias Bvute be running an export business rather than a game he knows barely anything of?
After all, was it not him who in that lamentable rebel stand-off who gloated about “the array“ of youngsters—Tinashe Panyangara, Elton Chigumbura, Tatenda Taibu—in his weaponry now that they had been finally given a chance to showcase their talents?
“Even when the Flowers were there Zimbabwe would win the odd game,” he said on national television, fresh from another boardroom brawl.
Given the ineptness of some senior players then, these were statements that could be humoured. But given the Chevrons’ desperate capitulations in recent games—indeed since the rebels—it seems that not even the traditional scatter-shot and bits and pieces players produced nowadays in the league can save Zimbabwe.
“Just give them two or three years to gel and these youngsters will be world beaters,” said Bvute.
Problem is it’s been five years now and they are world doormats, fancied by even Ireland and Kenya.
And Panyangara: where is he now? Does it matter to him that a little over eight months since the youngster made a somewhat spectacular entry in international cricket—six wickets in a demolition of Australia in a U19 World Cup, and a first ball scalp of the imperious Mathew Hayden—he was in hospital, one of three victims of a stress fracture due to over work on their young bodies.
Is it of any concern to ZC that a few weeks out of hospital the youngster was out of the country and out of cricket, disillusioned by the neglect he had received while injured?
It seems pointedly obvious therefore that, a political solution to the country's problem regardless, which is impacting negatively at all other facets of life in Zimbabwe, they need to entice some of their players back to change the side dramatically, as Ray Price’s return has shown.
Questions remain to that effect and they all point towards ZC. Will Panyangara ever play cricket again, or has he lost love of both the administration and the game. What about Sean Ervine, already emerging at the time as Zimbabwe’s best batsman and once touted by Brian Lara as going one day to be a better player than even Andy Flower?
Will former captain Heath Streak ever be invited to be part of a setup to impact valuable knowledge to a crop of youngsters who are badly in need of it?
Is anybody at ZC trying at all?