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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 February 2007, 15:59 GMT
Zimbabwe's decline
By Oliver Brett

Zimbabwe celebrate in a recent match
Do not expect too many Zimbabwe celebrations in this World Cup

All things considered, Zimbabwe did pretty well in past World Cups.

Their very first match, in 1983, resulted in a brilliant Duncan Fletcher-inspired win over Australia at Trent Bridge.

And they would have beaten eventual winners India as well, but for Kapil Dev's famous rearguard century at Tunbridge Wells.

Chicken farmer-cum-bowler Eddo Brandes bowled them to victory over England in 1992, and they added both India and South Africa to their list of scalps in 1999.

So dismally have things slipped in the last four years, however, that nobody would be very surprised if they lost to World Cup debutants Ireland on 15 March.

They have lost 15 of their last 16 one-day internationals, despite 11 of those matches being against another team well versed in defeats, Bangladesh.

This spectacular descent can be traced back to the moment Andy Flower and Henry Olonga bravely chose to "mourn the death of democracy" in their country by wearing black armbands on 10 February 2003 in a World Cup match against Namibia in Harare.

Very powerful people are connected with cricket. There's almost a mafia mentality

Telford Vice
Cricket journalist

After the tournament, Flower - one of the best batsmen in the world - and Olonga stopped playing for their country, and in the intervening years others from a variety of backgrounds have done likewise.

There are numerous reasons, but among them are pay disputes, disagreements about team selection, and constant suspicion about Zimbabwe Cricket's governance.

For some like former skipper Heath Streak and Flower, emigration to England - where they can take up professional contracts in county or even league cricket - has been the chosen career path.

And the problems are still ongoing. Utseya's band of novices must sign a poorly-remunerated two-year contract if they wish to go to the Caribbean - or else be subjected to immediate eviction from the squad.

This time, the players are likely to play ball - ironically because the economic situation has declined so rapidly, and they have little prospect of any other career if they stay in the country.

Andy Flower
A different era: Andy Flower completes a Test century in 2001

Veteran cricket journalist Telford Vice told BBC Radio's Five Live Sport: "Zimbabwe Cricket has lost so many players and are keen to hold onto the few they have, no matter how weak and inexperienced they.

"If you are a young Zimbabwean in the country today a job in cricket is seen as a plum assignmnent.

"The economy has fallen apart. Cricket is one of the few things that pulls in foreign cash so if you are a young Zimbabwean who has an opportunity to work in cricket you will do just about anything to do that."

Vice, who works for a South African sports agency, said the International Cricket Council's continued support of ZC was not delivering financial support to grass-roots cricket in the country.

He said: "The money from the ICC is probably being spent on quite a few 4x4 vehicles and things like that. The ICC thinks about money, power and television, and not about morals.

"As long as the TV companies keep saying 'we'll put this junk on the telly, people will watch almost anyone thrashing Zimbabwe' they will remain a viable entity in international cricket however wrong that is.

Some people [in Zimbabwe Cricket] have complete impunity and threaten people with physical violence

Telford Vice

"The money doesn't get down to where it's needed. You hear about matches not taking place because stumps aren't put in place or there are no umpires."

Some of Vice's claims about ZC make for disturbing reading.

He said: "Very powerful people who are well connected with [Robert Mugabe's] government are also well connected with cricket.

"There's almost a mafia mentality. Some people have complete impunity and threaten people with physical violence and believe that if something has to be done they have a right to do it. It's an awful situation.

"They have a bunch of young, inexperienced players - they're kids really - and who are they going to stand up to? No-one really and not the might of Zimbabwe Cricket."

Five Live invited the ICC to respond, but they declined.

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