Fletcher returns home, where it began
Harare – Exactly 30 years ago, Duncan Fletcher led a merry band of Zimbabwean cricketers on their maiden adventure to the World Cup in England, just three years after the country had attained its independence.
Fletcher, then an all-rounder of genuine quality, was the standout player of the Zimbabwe team.
Their best game was the opening game against Australia on June 9, 1983 at Trent Bridge and Fletcher scored 69 not out as he anchored Zimbabwe’s innings in their competitive score of 239-6, hitting five fours along the way.
In reply, Fletcher starred with the ball, taking 4-42 in his 11 overs, as Zimbabwe restricted Australia to 227-7 to post a sensational 12-runs victory.
Twice in that tournament, the Zimbabweans played against India with the Asian powerhouse winning both matches by five wickets and by 31 runs on their way to success in that World Cup where they beat the West Indies by 43 runs in the final.
Last month, the Indians, with Fletcher as their coach, returned to England on the 30th anniversary of their World Cup triumph, and went home with another prestigious silverware, The Champions Trophy, after beating the hosts by five runs, in a gripping final, to pocket a cool US$2 million.
On Sunday, Fletcher returned to Harare, where he did his secondary school studies at Prince Edward, as leader of the Indian team that is here to take on the hosts in five match ODI series in Harare and Bulawayo.
For the next two weeks, he will guide his team against Zimbabwe with divided loyalty – hoping that his world champions continue their purple patch that has also seen them win a Tri-Nations tourney in the Caribbean and also hoping that the hosts compete very well.
The tour hung in the balance for some time, amid reports that the Indian cricket authorities were concerned with the burnout suffered by the players, but Fletcher is believed to have played a huge part to convince his employers that Zimbabwe badly needed such matches if it was to develop as a cricket nation.
Given India’s box-office appeal, which translates to a fortune in earnings from television rights, a decision for them not to come to Harare would have had serious financial implications on the hosts who desperately needed every dollar they can earn to keep their ship afloat.
Already, SuperSport has announced that all five ODI matches will be screened live on television, including in High Definition, which confirms just how marketable the Indians have become in terms of cricket.
“As they prepare to welcome the world champions for a five-match ODI series, which will be broadcast live on DStv’s SuperSport and in HD, Zimbabwe can confidently boast of being the only team India have not beaten in their rapid ascent of the ODI cricket summit in the last three-years,” a statement from Multichoice read.
“The last time the two sides met was in 2010 in a triangular series which included Sri Lanka in Zimbabwe.
The hosts convincingly won the two matches, by six and seven wickets respectively.
“This year’s series will be produced and broadcast live in HD (the first, third, fourth and fifth matches) on SuperSport.
“Commentary will be provided by former Zimbabwe pacemen Mpumelelo Mbangwa and Mluleki Nkala, as well as former skipper Alistair Campbell.
“Even though a Zimbabwe victory is against the odds, the hosts will take heart from the fact that half of the visiting squad is made up of players who were part of the 2010 team that they so convincingly beat.”
Zimbabwe captain, Brendan Taylor, revealed recently, when reports first emerged that the Board of Control of Cricket India (BCCI) wanted to shelve the tour, that it would be a huge blow for the country’s game and appealed to Fletcher to use his influence for the tour to go ahead.
“Indeed, I am disappointed with the news that the BCCI has put on hold (fatigue factor) to send its team to Zimbabwe. Hope it is not a long wait,” said had Taylor.
“To play against the Indian team is always a big challenge and we would like to accept it.
“I don’t know whether Team India coach (Duncan Fletcher) can decide, but he should convince the Indian cricket board to send its team over here. It would be a happy home coming for him.”
Fletcher has spoken a lot about his love for the Zimbabwe cricket to grow and be successful and as the BCCI authorities flirted with the possibility of postponing the tour, the former Zimbabwe skipper must have found himself in exactly the same position he was, 10 years ago, when he was in charge of England.
The English cricket side was due in Harare for a group match of the 2003 World Cup but, days before their departure from their base in Cape Town, they found themselves under pressure from politicians who wanted that visit scrapped because they believed it would be a triumph for President Robert Mugabe and his government.
One of the issues raised were that England would not be safe in Harare and, when that failed, they said the English team had a moral obligation to stay away from a country whose leadership was under attack from the British Government.
Fletcher revealed in his autobiography, “Behind the Shades”, intimate details of what unfolded in their camp, ahead of their scheduled visit to Zimbabwe, and his thoughts during the unfolding drama.
“An international security team will never be in danger as a group and, in that respect, I think Zimbabwe is a good deal safer than most countries,” Fletcher wrote in his autobiography.
“I said ‘Nasser (Hussain, then England captain), on the moral issue, you have to be very careful where you draw the line.
“There are many countries in the world where, perhaps, others should not play sport in moral grounds.
“What is important is that you speak to other people, if you feel that I could unduly influence you because of my moral obligations.
“Naturally, there was a chance I could be biased. Without being arrogant, I had helped put Zimbabwe cricket on the world map.
“I captained them to victory over Australia in the 1983 World Cup and played a major part in the country adjusting to international status after it became independent in 1980.
“If England did not go to Zimbabwe, I could be helping to destroy everything that Zimbabwe’s cricket administrators had worked so hard to create.
“I had spoken to many people within Zimbabwe cricketing fraternity and they thought the tour must go ahead because it would do untold harm to the game if it did not.’
Ten years down the line, he could say exactly the same thing, about India’s tour of Zimbabwe doing untold harm to the game, if it didn’t go ahead as scheduled.