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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 December, 2004, 15:41 GMT
England's dreaded tour ends
BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew
By Jonathan Agnew
BBC cricket correspondent

Matthew Prior departs in Bulawayo
Those who opposed the tour in the first place are unlikely to have changed their view

So, with the demands of the International Cricket Council met, England's cricketers can now breathe a sigh of relief and leave Zimbabwe.

What has been gained by their short tour here is a moot point, largely because the standard of cricket they faced from the home team was well short of international standard.

Meanwhile, those who opposed the tour in the first place are unlikely to have changed their view.

The longer one stays in Zimbabwe - and the more people one meets and questions one asks of them - the more complicated the picture becomes.

Everything here comes with a strong measure of political spin. Conspiracy theories - covering just about every imaginable aspect of everyday life - abound.

We led a superficial existence while we were here.

This is normally the case wherever England go on tour, and it is impossible to judge what life is like for ordinary Zimbabweans.

Indeed, this is the frustration all the English journalists felt.

While we have been able to report accurately what we have seen, we were denied access to the deprived rural areas that are at the centre of the most serious allegations against the Zimbabwean government.

With a journalist from the Sunday Times, I was taken to Highfields, a 'high density' area on the outskirts of Harare, to inspect Zimbabwe Cricket's development programme.

Zimbabwe are nowhere good enough and - with Bangladesh - their presence undermines international cricket

We were amazed at what we saw.

In a net on a school playing field, three bare-footed ten-year-old boys - using enormous pads and bats - were busy practising.

It was when the smallest of them punched a stroke off the back foot through the covers that I really took note. He then played an immaculate sweep shot.

Later, at Takashinge Cricket Club - which is currently accused of extorting money from its international players - another group of similar aged boys were tossing up leg-spinners with a skill well beyond their years.

What, I wondered, would happen to these cricket-mad youngsters if Zimbabwe were isolated?

Is it even our business to be concerned? Some people will argue that it is for Zimbabwe Cricket to worry about the future of the game here, rather than the other members of the ICC.

The biggest problem facing the game's administrators here is to convince the ICC that Zimbabwe's future depends on their continued Test status.

At the moment, their team is nowhere good enough and - with Bangladesh - its presence undermines international cricket.

Is this the time to introduce a two-tiered international structure involving teams such as Kenya, Scotland and Namibia to preserve Test cricket, but hand opportunities and encouragement to those who are not quite good enough?

While here, I heard stories of further allegations of racism within cricket - made after the official ICC inquiry cleared Zimbabwe Cricket - and of political meddling that loyal and hard-working members of the board could no longer tolerate.

Sadly, it is a fact that few international cricket boards could survive the level of scrutiny that the board here is currently subjected to.

But Zimbabwe Cricket needs to be transparent and above suspicion if those youngsters I saw in Highfields are to have the future in cricket they deserve.

Business as usual in Bulawayo
04 Dec 04 |  England


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