Daily Telegraph

The International Cricket Council, who have been pressing the Zimbabwean Cricket Union to accept arbitration to sort out their crisis, have sounded out some prominent South Africans as possible mediators.

The crisis erupted two weeks ago when Zimbabwe captain Heath Streak and 14 other all-white players were sacked after asking for changes to the way in which cricket in the country was run.

Streak yesterday said he was pleased the ICC were trying to intervene and told me: “We would welcome international meditation. But we have got good local ones who could do it a lot quicker.”

It seems extremely unlikely, however, that the ZCU will accept any mediation. Although their mild-mannered chairman, Peter Chingoka, remains the public face of the union, for the last two years their policy has been dictated by three individuals whose triple alliance reflects the hardline views of the ruling Zanu-PF party. They are Ozias Bvute, Stephen Mangongo and Macsood Ebrahim.

Bvute, a board member who chairs the Integration Committee who are meant to bring more black players into the game, accompanied Chingoka to London this week and is the man who, 10 days ago, rang 20-year-old Tatenda Taibu to tell him he was taking over from Streak as Zimbabwe’s first black captain.

Ebrahim and Mangongo are the two selectors Streak and his rebels want removed, claiming they do not have enough experience to do the job. These two also represent two clubs in Harare who rule Zimbabwean cricket: Universal are Ebrahim’s club, Takashinga are Mangongo’s club and the one who sacked Henry Olonga when he made his stand against the country’s President, Robert Mugabe, during the World Cup just over a year ago.

In the last two years both Ebrahim and Mangongo have used their power to make it clear that if you play for their clubs you stand a better chance of playing for Zimbabwe. And although the government-controlled media have tried to present the Streak rebellion as whites seeking to maintain their power, blacks who do not belong to Universal and Takashinga have also suffered.

Muleki Nkala, for example, is black, yet despite performing well in domestic cricket was not considered good enough to be one of the top 30 cricketers in the country even as late as two weeks ago.

Then, when the crisis broke, he was suddenly summoned and played in Tuesday’s one day international against Sri Lanka, scoring 33 not out. His crime was that he plays for Queens Club in Bulawayo.

Streak told me: “I am all for the integration document and bringing in disadvantaged communities but it must be based on merit. My complaint is that there is a lot of inconsistency in the selection process which affects all races.”

So, apart from race, regional differences also matter with Zimbabwean cricket dominated by Harare and Mashonaland, home to the majority Shonas.

It is not without some significance that Taibu replacing Streak means that a Shona from Harare has taken over from Streak, who is from Bulawayo, the capital of Matabeleland.

Even in the 24 hours I was allowed to spend in the country before I was deported — for the alleged reason that I had no accreditation to cover the Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka series — I was struck by the number of black people in Bulawayo who expressed their love for Streak, ranging from taxi drivers to the immigration officer who deported me.

Streak’s popularity in Bulawayo was clearly of some worry to Taibu before the match with Sri Lanka on Tuesday. Just hours before my passport was confiscated, when I asked Taibu whether the crowd would react to Streak’s omission, he said: “Yes, I am aware of it. There are going to be people against the situation and some for the situation. Banners will be flying high.”

In the event there were no demonstrations or banners, but that merely emphasised the fear that now grips Zimbabwe.

Taibu admitted: “The situation in Zimbabwe is far from normal. I don’t think it is very normal. But I think sport should still be played. I want the England team to definitely come here.”

But can he reassure England cricket that the team they will play if the autumn tour goes ahead are the real Zimbabwe team, not a political Zimbabwe?

Taibu answered: “Um,” then with a fierceness that belied his youth, added: “I am not really sure where we can go next. I am not really sure the guys are going to come back. The situation here is I don’t think their demands are all going to be met. I think it is really up to them to make the final decision.

“Everyone is welcome to play. They will have to give up some of their demands and compromise otherwise they will not come back. If they compromise and come back we will accept them.”

The powers that be in Zimbabwean cricket clearly intend to build Taibu up as a rival to Streak and despite his admission that he is “still so young and inexperienced” he tried to give the impression of a man in charge.

As we spoke in his hotel room in Bulawayo, Taibu, a Liverpool football fan, watched a re-run of last weekend’s match against Fulham. A committed Catholic who prays every night, he is proud of his education at Churchill School in Harare, “named after Winston Churchill”, and in our conversation Taibu cleverly insinuated that, under Streak, there had been racial problems in the team although he would not mention any names.

He also showed that he is learning fast about what not to say in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

It was Dennis Flower who spotted Taibu as wicketkeeper and Andy who gave him his first wicketkeeping gloves, but when I asked him what he felt about Andy Flower following his stand for democracy against Mugabe during the World Cup, he said: “I admire the way he was organised as a cricketer, but I do not want to make any comments about the stand he took. The country has a lot of problems. But I think they should be set aside.”

That remains very debatable.

Mihir Bose’s deportation document:


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