The celebratory scenes in Zimbabwe following president Robert Mugabe’s resignation this week will rank among the most iconic moments in the country’s history. And there is hope that the feel-good factor may spill over into the country’s beleaguered cricketing landscape.
“Just from a general perspective, there’s a huge sense of euphoria,” former Zimbabwe batsman Grant Flower told ESPNcricinfo. “Obviously not everything’s going to go back to how it was [prior to 2003], but it’s a great start.”
Flower, who landed in Harare on Friday, had booked his trip to Zimbabwe well before recent political events – an army-forced change of the country’s leadership – plunged the nation in uncertainty.
“I’d come just to see friends. It had nothing to do with cricket or anything else,” Flower said. “I was actually going to go to the UK. But the West Indies games (Pakistan’s home series against West Indies) got called off so I decided to come to Zimbabwe a bit early before I went to the UK.”
Mugabe, who had been Zimbabwe’s leader since independence in 1980 – first as Prime Minister and then as President – was also Zimbabwe Cricket’s chief patron. Though Mugabe’s involvement in the affairs of the national cricket team was minimal, the cause of Zimbabwe’s cricketing woes, much like the country’s, could be traced to the political and economic turmoil caused by his regime.
Mugabe’s government had begun a controversial land reform plan for the forced redistribution of thousands of farms from white farmers, with consequences that were at times violent. And during the 2003 World Cup, which Zimbabwe co-hosted, Grant’s brother Andy Flower and bowler Henry Olonga protested the “death of democracy” in the country by wearing black armbands. Neither ever played for Zimbabwe again. A year later another dispute, this time between several white cricketers and the board, over selection policies led to many first-team players – including Flower – going on strike. Zimbabwe has lurched from one crisis to another ever since.
What may the post-Mugabe era hold for Zimbabwe’s cricket? Incidentally, the set-up is perhaps the most stable it has been since 2003. The board’s financial situation appears to be improving under the new head of operations Faisal Hasnain, and Brendan Taylor and Kyle Jarvis, both of whom had left to pursue county careers in England, have returned.
“I’ve spoken to a few ex-players and they are not sure what’s going to change,” Flower said. “Faisal [Hasnain]’s head of operations in Zimbabwe Cricket and I’ve heard he’s doing a very good job. I’m not too sure if there are going to be any changes. Apparently things are going a lot better.
“One of the things that could happen is some people might come back here. Maybe some families and younger players who have tried to go overseas, to either SA or England and Australia, they might come back. There might be a bit of talent coming back into the country. If that does happen that can only be a good thing.”
When the political crisis began last week, with the army holding Mugabe under house arrest, there was speculation over whether the country was fit to host the World Cup Qualifier in March 2018. But Flower saw no reason for the tournament to be moved.
“Not at all. I was at the Harare Sports Club yesterday, and it looked really good,” he said. “Obviously the series that was just played in Bulawayo went well, against the West Indies. I don’t see any reason why the tournament should be affected.”