By Robson Sharuko
HARARE–TWELVE years after his dismissal as captain sparked a crisis that sent Zimbabwe cricket spinning into chaos – leading to the country to take a voluntary sabbatical from Test cricket two years later – Heath Streak has returned with the task to transform the national team into a competitive outfit once again.
The 42-year-old former Zimbabwe skipper was this week named the new head coach of the Chevrons in a coaching set-up that also features legendary South African paceman, Makhaya Ntini, and batting great Lance Klusener.
Streak, who has impressed doing his coaching apprenticeship in Bangladesh, where he was the bowling coach of the Tigers, and in India, was the run-away favourite to land the role of coaching his national team once it was made public he had applied for the job with the country’s mainstream media even campaigning in his corner.
He beat his former teammate Andy Blignaut, who is now coaching one of Zimbabwe’s leading private schools, and the South African pair of Peter Kirsten and Justin Simmons who had expressed interest in the job to replace Dave Whatmore who was sacked after an unsuccessful stint saw Zimbabwe crash out of the qualifying phase of the ICC Twenty20 Cricket World Cup in India this year.
“Firstly, I would like to say a big thank you to the chairman of Zimbabwe Cricket and his board for this opportunity,” Streak – who was appointed on a two-year contract – said after his unveiling in Bulawayo.
“For me, having captained this country, to be offered the post of head coach is a great honour and I know with it comes responsibility not just to the players but to the fans and supporters of Zimbabwe cricket as well.
“My promise is that I will leave no stone unturned in terms of our endeavour and our quest to improve the team’s performances. I believe that we have the resources here in Zimbabwe to do just that and planning is obviously going to be a major factor.
“I feel that with the upcoming series (Tests against Sri Lanka and an ODI tri-series also featuring West Indies) we have some really good cricket coming up, so we can really work towards improving.”
Streak’s return – and the earlier appointment of another former captain, Tatenda Taibu, as the convener of selectors – brings the vicious boardroom politics, which blighted Zimbabwe cricket a dozen years ago and divided the national team into two warring blocs of white and black players, full circle.
For it was his sacking, as captain in 2004, which triggered a succession of events that ultimately led the country’s cricket leaders to voluntarily lead their team into a break from Test cricket just two years later.
It also deeply divided the country’s cricket family, splitting the players into two warring blocs of white and black athletes, and inflicting wounds that are yet to heal.
Ironically, after Streak’s dismissal, which saw 12 senior white players walking out on the team in sympathy with their colleague, saw Taibu being appointed captain of the Zimbabwe national team.
The Zimbabwe Cricket authorities eventually sacked 15 of their white players, as the dispute between them and the players spiralled out of control, plunging the game into the global spotlight.
Former England captain Ian Botham severely criticised the International Cricket Council, which was resisting pressure to act on the Zimbabwe Cricket dispute, saying the matter was an internal issue.
“I think the ICC need to wake up and stop hiding. They have a job to do, stop running away and do the job. Don’t put the ball in other people’s courts. It’s an international problem and it needs addressing,” thundered Botham.
“So I say to the ICC, wake up and get off your butt.”
With Australia set to tour just two weeks after the 15 white players were sacked, Zimbabwe Cricket became the trending topic in international cricket and while the then Aussie coach John Buchanan didn’t see any need for the tour to be called off, unless the safety of the touring party was compromised, the global media ganged up against Zimbabwe.
“From a cricketing point of view, the entire tour is pointless. It might fatten a few people’s averages, but in terms of the greater good I see that it accomplishes nothing,” Gideon Haigh, the English-born Aussie journalist said.
“Australia’s speaking very piously about the idea of bringing politics into cricket. The ZCU has brought politics into cricket. Imagine if the German soccer team decided it was only going to pick Aryans. We’d be jumping up and down about that.
“The fact is that Zimbabwe is barely competitive at the best of times and with its current XI it’s just an offence to legitimate cricket.”
But things have changed now and Streak finds himself working hand-in-glove with Taibu as they try to find ways of turning the Chevrons into a very competitive national team again.
“I do see a strong future. Obviously, things don’t just happen overnight. It’s a process but I know that process can happen quickly and for me that will be a big goal to facilitate that,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge. I understand that I’m no under illusion that there are going to be some big challenges ahead of us but that’s what sportspeople and athletes enjoy, the challenges, and that’s what drives us.
“My promise to supporters, the current group of players as well as past players is that, hopefully. I can honour that and make sure I forge this team and we can start seeing improved performances, not just to be happy to be competitive but to start winning.”