By Kevin Mapasure

FOR two months, the normal angry sounds of mowers manicuring the Harare Sports Club cricket stadium’s green grass were not heard.

Even the usual tsk tsk tsk sounds of sprinklers spitting away to quench and nourish probably the most spoilt grass in the country had disappeared and was replaced by dead silence.

The common sight of men in work suits or overalls and wellies working away on that grass each day was not there anymore.

Instead, this customarily well-pampered surface was starting to look like a deserted mine stadium.

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The grass that had never known thirst or lack was starting to show distress and frailty.

This situation at the Harare Sports Club between the months of July and August mirrored how the game in Zimbabwe was teetering towards its death as office bearers at Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) and the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) board haggled over the control of the game in the country.

The first episode of the soap opera, which has turned out to be the major highlight of 2019, saw the SRC writing to ZC barring them from conducting their elective annual general meeting (AGM).

ZC defied the order and went ahead with their AGM where Tavengwa Mukuhlani won another term at the helm of the game in the country.

What followed that in summary was the near death of the game in the country after SRC suspended the ZC board on June 22 to replace them with an interim administration led by former managing director Vince Hogg.

ZC workers responded by staying away from work and some of the consequences included the non-processing of salaries from the month of June onwards.

The two months in question were characterised by a lot of fight through letters, in meetings in the mainstream media as well as on social media.

Meanwhile, the International Cricket Council watched with keen interest until June 19 at its board meeting when the world governing body suspended Zimbabwe.

The SRC had sought for the ICC to endorse its decision to suspend ZC, but instead Zimbabwe was suspended over allowing government interference.

As all this happened, the workers and players’ nostro account bank balances had started to hit all-time lows for some.

ZC players are some of the most pampered workers in Zimbabwe and have never known lack. Yet here, they were getting a glimpse into the world of poverty.

The ICC had given a deadline for Zimbabwe to put its house in order, otherwise the consequences would be dire.

With time running out, there was pressure on SRC and ZC to find common ground for the game to avoid the threat of extinction.

There was a threat of ZC losing its full membership altogether and with that missing out on the yearly inflow of millions of United States dollars.

Jobs would be lost, players’ careers were in jeopardy and something had to be done.

The Sports ministry got involved and meetings were convened until an agreement was reached between the warring parties for the SRC to lift ZC’s suspension ahead of the ICC board meeting in October.

By the time the ICC convened its meeting, the senior men’s national team had lost out on participating at the ICC T-20 World Cup qualifiers and, likewise, the women’s team.

Solomon Mire had seen enough and decided to walk away from international cricket. Several others including Sikandar Raza were threatening the same.

But in all this, the players were also divided, with some backing the SRC action, while the majority were against it.

The October meeting was crucial and Zimbabwe waited with bated breath to here the outcome and on October 14, the ICC announced that they had lifted ZC’s suspension.

The news thrilled cricket followers that things world get back to normal, yet for the players and workers at ZC, it didn’t necessarily mean the nostro accounts would start ticking again as they had to wait for a process that would take months until they finally got their six-month bonanza’s in December.

Stalwart Chingoka dies

The death of former ZC board chairman Peter Chingoka was one of the low points of the year, with the 65-year-old breathing his last on August 22.

Chingoka had been part of the administration from 1992 until 2014 when he stepped aside for then vice-president Wilson Manase to take over.

Chingoka received a grand send-off on the day he was buried, with current and former cricket players, coaches administrators, former national team footballers and coaches, among them Sunday Chidzambga, David Mandigora, former Harare mayor Muchadeyi Masunda as well as former government and serving ministers gracing his memorial mass at St George’s College in Harare as well as his burial.

Mukuhlani said that Chingoka had shaped Zimbabwe cricket for success.

“Him having been in the cricket circles for long, he took it upon himself to mentor me and many others,” Mukuhlani said.

“He lived half of his life in cricket administration. He cultured ZC in a way that we see it today. His belief was to see the game spread to all the corners of the country, which saw an increase in the number of provinces from five to the 10 that we have today. Of course, it brought about the increase in the number of black players participating and moreso black administrators.
He represented Zimbabwe well at international level from 1992 to 2014. Today, we have good relations with India and that foundation was laid by Peter.”

Hamilton’s flourishing farewell innings

Then Zimbabwe captain Hamilton Masakadza announced that he would retire from all forms of cricket in September. He was to play his last innings at a triangular series that featured hosts Bangladesh and Afghanistan from September 13 to 24.

Zimbabwe struggled in the series, with the hosts and Afghanistan making it to the finals as they started tuning up for the T-20 global showcase that will be staged in Australia this year.

But in fitting style, in Zimbabwe’s last match and Masakadza’s final innings, he batted his way to a half tone in thrilling fashion.

This was his day and he surely made it his own with a man of the match performance which saw him hit 71 runs off 42 balls, featuring four boundaries and five maximums, as Zimbabwe cantered to a seven-wicket win.

He received a lot of tributes from all over the world and back home as he finally hung his bat after playing 38 Tests scoring 2 223 runs (five centuries and eight half centuries), 201 one-day internationals (ODI) where he made

5 658 runs (five centuries and 34 half tons) as well as 66 T-20 Internationals with figures of 1 662 runs (11 half centuries).

“It was a special feeling going through that guard of honour that the guys put up for me. I just got a lot of emotions going, but obviously, in the end, I am happy that I have pretty much done what the team needed from me, to get them into a good position to challenge Afghanistan for the win. I am very satisfied today,” he said after his final innings.

“I started tearing a little bit in the morning, trying to get through the team talk with the boys. I am not someone who wears his heart on his sleeve, but I think this is the one thing that brought a few emotions out of me. Even when I tried to tell the guys and the team before I made the official announcement, I barely got through three sentences, so it’s been a really emotional time for me.”

After ending his career, there was always suspicion that this was not the end of the story and so it was proved, as he was to be appointed director of cricket on October 31.

Bruised and battered all year

The national team struggled on the international stage, losing series in Netherlands and Ireland as well as at the tri-series in Bangladesh.

Zimbabwe were whitewashed in an ODI series by hosts Netherlands before they also lost the T-20 series.

Another ODI series whitewash followed in Ireland before the drawn T-20 series.

Before that, they hosted United Arab Emirates at home and won all matches, raising further anguish at the way the team crashed out of contention for a place at this year’s World Cup finals after losing to the minnows last year.

The national women’s team won the first phase of their World T-20 qualifiers, beating Namibia in the final, but the journey towards a place at the finals was cut short by the boardroom squabbles that took up much of the time and space.