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Page last updated at 08:50 GMT, Friday, 4 July 2008 09:50 UK

Zimbabwe's troubled cricketing history

Zimbabwe Cricket
Zimbabwe cricket lives to fight another day, for the time being

For all the political turmoil within the country, not to mention the fiasco that is its cricket team, Zimbabwe still remains one of the 10 full members of the International Cricket Council.

They have escaped suspension from cricket's top table after an ICC board meeting in Dubai, though there has been a trade-off, with Zimbabwe accepting a plea to bow out of the 2009 World Twenty20 in England.

The British government had insisted it would not grant visas to Zimbabwe's squad to enter the country for the competition, and that had created a hornet's nest of potential problems - fortunately averted by Friday's developments.

606: DEBATE

Cricket South Africa had earlier ended all ties with its African neighbour, while New Zealand and Australia may follow the English model in the future to prevent their players having anything to do with Zimbabwe.

The whole affair is the latest chapter in the cricketing history of an embattled nation which left its first, and probably most favourable, impression on the cricketing world at the 1983 World Cup.

The team, dominated by white players and captained by Duncan Fletcher, scored a famous victory over Australia and went very close to beating eventual winners India at Tunbridge Wells.

Nine years later, Zimbabwe were granted the right to play Test cricket for the first time, and took just 11 matches to win in the five-day game, when thrashing Pakistan in Harare.

Through the second half of the 1990s, they were more than a match for many teams on their day, with the brilliant left-handed batsman Andy Flower - who was officially rated the world's best at one stage - and the canny seam bowler Heath Streak their prime assets.

Andy Flower
Andy Flower with his international Cricketer of the Year award in 2001

But when president Robert Mugabe's so-called land reforms gathered pace from the turn of the millennium, teams were less keen to tour there - notably England, who tried in vain to cancel a 2001 tour.

Two years later, England refused to play a World Cup match in Zimbabwe - costing them a place in the knockout stages.

Cricket in Zimbabwe suffered a major blow at the same tournament when Flower and fast bowler Henry Olonga both wore black armbands in a match to protest against the "death of democracy" in their country.

They both then retired and emigrated to England, Flower going on to have a successful playing career at Essex and before being appointed England's batting coach.

By this stage Streak was captain, but he was sacked the following year after differences with the selectors, and replaced by the young black player Tatenda Taibu.

Along with Streak, 15 other players were also dismissed by Zimbabwe Cricket as the turmoil intensified.

The international side had effectively become a second string team and, after a succession of comprehensive Test defeats, Zimbabwe agreed with the ICC to take a break from Test cricket from June 2004 to January 2005.

They returned with a team dominated by black players but withdrew a few months later after more embarrassing performances, although they have continued to play limited-overs internationals.

The meeting in Dubai this week was the first time the ICC has tackled the Zimbabwe crisis head-on.

Previous concerns about the financial structure of ZC came to nothing when an ICC review of the cricket board's accounts failed to reveal any wrongdoing.

The central tenet that sport and politics cannot be mixed - one continually argued by the Asian countries - fails to wash with the belief in other quarters that the ICC cash intended to aid grass-roots cricket in Zimbabwe merely lines the pockets of the Zanu-PF-voting directors at the top of the ladder.

And although the Zimbabwe question has finally being addressed by the ICC, any notion that we have heard the end of the matter would be hopelessly naive.

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see also
Zimbabwe to miss World Twenty20
04 Jul 08 |  Cricket
Zimbabwe get Sri Lankan support
02 Jul 08 |  Cricket
Mihir Bose blog
25 Jun 08 |  Cricket
Watson supports Zimbabwean exile
29 Jun 08 |  Scotland
Hain slams Zimbabwe cricket tour
28 Nov 04 |  UK Politics
Country profile: Zimbabwe
30 Jun 08 |  Country profiles


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