As Chingoka says goodbye, what next for Zim cricket?
Harare – After more than two decades in which he cast his shadow over Zimbabwe Cricket, Peter Chingoka said goodbye last week but will his grand departure signal a new era for a sport crippled by debt and whose fortunes on the field have been nose-diving?
When Chingoka took over from Dave Ellman-Brown, in 1992, Zimbabwe had just become the newest Test-playing nation in the world, the only one in Africa, and the national team was so competitive, back then, that they even held powerhouse India to a draw at Harare Sports Club.
A dozen years later, the game was rocked by the decision of 15 white players, led by Heath Streak, to walk away from Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC), claiming they were being victimized on the basis of their colour, in the wake of the authorities’ decision to strip Streak of the captaincy.
Last week, exactly 10 years after that sensational fallout, from which ZC had struggled to recover, Chingoka decided to call time on his lengthy reign as leader of the game in this country.
“I have just announced my retirement from the chairmanship and Directorship of Zimbabwe Cricket,” Chingoka said.
“It has been a great honour and privilege for me to serve ZC through the good and the tough times and I remain with so many lasting memories.”
Ironically, Chingoka leaves just a few months after Streak, the main character in that fallout between the white players and the ZC leadership, had also left the country to begin a new life as the specialist bowling coach of Bangladesh who will host Zimbabwe in a Test showdown in that Asian nation in October.
Grant Flower, who was part of that group of white players, who walked out on the ZC, has also left his post as the batting coach of the Zimbabwe national cricket team to take up a similar post in the Pakistan national team.
But, there is no doubt that it is Chingoka’s decision to step down a year before the end of his term of office, which is likely to provoke the biggest talking points in the game, not only in Zimbabwe, but across the entire cricket world.
Sources told The Southern Times this past week that the powerful Board of Cricket Control of India, who have generally been supportive of Chingoka and ZC, called last week to enquire whether the cricket strongman had been forced out and, if so, warned it could have serious consequences on the two organisations’ relationship.
Chingoka, said the sources, ended up providing assurances to the BCCI leadership that he had not been forced out but had decided to pass the baton to someone else with Wilson Manase, who has been his deputy in the past four years, taking over as ZC chairman.
But what does Chingoka’s departure mean?
Certainly, it will not dissolve the ZC mountain of debt overnight but it is likely to soften the hardline approach, adopted by the British government, which has strained relations between the England and Wales Cricket Board and Zimbabwe Cricket with no bilateral series between the two countries in the past 10 years?
Four years ago the then British Sports Minister, Hugh Robertson, said there would be no bilateral series between Zimbabwe and England until Chingoka had stepped down.
“As long as he is in charge of Zimbabwe cricket it is extremely difficult for them to be fully integrated into the global cricketing community,” Robertson told The Daily Telegraph.
“England will be discouraged from travelling over there and it is difficult for them to come here while their chairman remains on the banned list.
“It is very difficult to welcome a team here if the chairman cannot get a visa to enter this country.”
Manase has said re-engaging the ECB will be one of his main tasks as he tries to find ways of balancing the books of an organisation that have been battered by dwindling earnings, which has seen their debt balloon to US$18 million, and strengthening a team that has lost its competitive spirit. The irony of how much the Zimbabwe national cricket team have fallen, in the past two decades, could not have been lost on Chingoka, as he waved goodbye, with the team being humbled by 100 runs, in an ODI, by minnow Afghanistan.