Zimbabwe cricket on a path to self destruction once more

The on-off nature of Zimbabwe’s domestic game continues as the resumption of the 2014-15 season has been shrouded in threats of a players’ strike over contracts and pay this week.

Players had reminded Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) on Friday that there were serious contractual issues and that ZC had not delivered on previous promises to tackle the players’ concerns.

ZC only confirmed players’ contract offers on Friday, two days before the season began with a round of limited-overs fixtures, with the highest earners promised US$1 500 (NZ$1922) per month and the lowest getting just US$300. After tax the players would only take home about half of those amounts and would be required to pay 40 per cent of their medical aid costs out of their own pockets.

The players had been prepared to sit-out the Mashonaland Eagles vs Mid-West Rhinos and Mountaineers vs Matabeleland Tuskers in the four-day Logan Cup. However, play got underway in both games, scheduled to start on Tuesday, 24 hours late after Eliah Zvimba, secretary to the players’ association, asked that this current round of fixtures be honoured before contractual issues would be discussed again in an emergency meeting with ZC on Friday.

ZC’s reaction to Fridays warning of potential strike action was to instruct franchises to pick ‘pay as you play’ and club cricketers.

In the current set-up, established by ZC in July, only ten players can be contracted to each franchise. Subsequently they announced that 55 cricketers would have employment across the board, with 15 central contracts and the remaining 40 spread evenly across the four franchised sides. Players not awarded contracts would be paid as they play and it is this inconsistency and uncertainty that has led to disgruntled players. In the restructure the number of franchises was also cut from five to four.

The players took part in the Pro50 Championship at the weekend, but refused to play on Tuesday in protest over ‘grey areas’ in the contracts they had been offered by ZC.

“We cannot have that, especially in our economy which is unstable as it is,” Zvimba told ESPNcricinfo. “Players need a guarantee about income.” Zvimba added, to a Zimbabwean newspaper, “This (strike action) is the only language (ZC) understands. We had September, we had October and now it’s November. We were supposed to have discussed these issues without rushing, but that’s not happened.”

The players have heeded Zvimba’s plee for them to take the field this week, but if no progress is made with ZC on Friday further strike is probable. “If nothing is agreed, we will push for what belongs to the players,” Zvimba said.

ZC said it was “surprised,” with the players’ boycott and had “no choice but to suspend domestic matches until the players make themselves available.” How the governing body can be shocked is ridiculous after a domestic player dispute saw last season’s domestic fixtures delayed for two months.

photo-1It is not only the players in Zimbabwe who are unhappy. One poster known as jimmylesaint on a Zimbabwe cricket forum posted: “Who is paying the players ?? The surprising answer is…ICC. ZC is receiving monthly payments from ICC to run cricket in Zimbabwe.

“Unfortunately the admin staff not only know nothing about the game, they know nothing about their own jobs and have either…

“1) Grossly underestimated the budget for the season and monthly. For example they forgot to budget in cricket balls to practice and play with! They also have not factored in the 10 contracted players really needs to be 14 as the national players are away most of the season. So know the $10k per month for 10players is now for 14players.

“2) The budget sent to ICC as per negotiations with the players and their rep is correct but the money coming down the pyramid is being stripped away for others to enjoy. For example they tell ICC that players are getting $1k and only passing on $300 of the allocated money. Personally i believe both are happening.”

The poster continued: “I fully back the players and hope they force ZC to publish their personnel list and the wages that the personnel are on, then we can go forward by cutting their fat wages and jobs. Transparency is the key and if there was no issues ZC would be transparent ,yet they continue to partake in subterfuge and obfuscation and when that doesn’t work, downright bullying!”

It is usually sensible to take the gut reactions of a cricket fan with a pinch of salt. Supporters are not privy to all the information, or the sensitivity of behind closed doors dealings. But, it would be equally foolish for any commentator, or indeed ZC official, to pretend that cricket in Zimbabwe has been run well and that no-one has made mistakes.

It is public knowledge that the finances have been mismanaged. If ZC has turned over a new leaf, with the assistance of the ICC, then it must also be understood that the current economic climate and a lack of sponsors for domestic competitions make their rehabilitation task a tough one.

The product of Zimbabwean domestic cricket must be built from the ground up however, and without the players there is nothing to sell.

The poster ended his comments with, “Right now the jokes on the ZC Admin because IF the players actions here and in Bangla cause the downfall of Zimbabwe Cricket who do they think will feel the pain more?? A cricketer earning $200 a month after tax and insurance or an Admin jobsworth earning $10 000 plus benefits??? The lads are in a corner with nothing to lose; a powerful bargaining position and you must use it until you are treated humanely and fairly. P.S. There are 150admin jobs and how many cricketers???!”

I was going to finish this article with a comment like ‘we’ll watch this space’, but having your eyes glued to green grass growing longer amidst inactivity is not an entertaining thought. For the game in Zimbabwe to prosper it first and foremost needs to be played.

It could be that there is a sustained period of dormancy and bitterness before Zim cricket can get itself back on the right tracks.

 

James Buttler

James has been working as a journalist and broadcaster in cricket since 2006 and was an avid fan for many years before that.
As the editor of World Cricket Badger he is intent on building the website to give quality coverage of the domestic game around the world.
He is also the presenter of the Cricket Badger Radio Show on Radio Yorkshire every Tuesday evening between 7-9pm UK time.
James was the full-time Media Manager at Yorkshire County Cricket Club between 2007 and 2010.
James is a published author, a writer/video contributor to many cricket publications and a complete cricket badger!

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