In the year that Peter Chingoka was appointed president of the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, Zimbabwe drew their first ever Test match against India. On Thursday (July 24), the day that he stepped down as chairman of Zimbabwe Cricket, Zimbabwe drew a one-day series against Afghanistan, a team that only attained ODI status in 2013. This slide from hopeful Test newcomers to hopeless embarrassment over the course of his tenure is instructive, but it’s also overly simplistic. It suggests a casual disintegration of the game under Chingoka’s rule, when in reality it was a wild roller-coaster ride on which he was often just a passenger.
A more insightful but equally digestible way of assessing an eventful 22 years is to divide it neatly in half. Between 1992 and 2003, Zimbabwe competed with the best in the world. They didn’t often beat them, but they competed. For a nation with 12 million people, many of whom were only slowly being introduced to cricket, this was something of a triumph. And because of their plucky nature, Zimbabwe were everyone else’s ‘second team’. They won Tests at home, they won a Test series in Pakistan and they deservedly made it to the Super Six stage of the 1999 World Cup. In 2003, they even co-hosted the tournament.
Speak to the administrators who worked with Chingoka during that time and they give glowing reviews of a likeable man who worked for the good of the game. Crucially, you could confidently say that those same administrators were selfless men who were involved in cricket because they loved the sport. Many of them offered their time for no financial reward and organised cake sales and casino evenings in the 1980s to get Zimbabwe to ICC Trophies – and by extension World Cups – before Test status finally guaranteed some income. The game came first, and it thrived.
Between 2003 and 2014, Zimbabwe went from competing with the top Test nations to competing with the Associates. They has lost 15 of their best players during a walkout in 2004, stood down from Tests, flopped at two World Cups, returned to Tests (with mixed results) and provided few bright moments for their supporters. Tellingly, ZC has gone from a position of financial strength, with a bank balance of $10 million in 2004, to a basket case carrying $18m worth of debt.
Those 11 years have coincided with the rise in ZC admin circles of Ozias Bvute and, more recently, Wilson Manase. Neither man arrived with any cricketing background. Bvute is a banker by trade while Manase is a lawyer with his own firm. The pair does a fair bit of business together, and both have prominent positions at Metbank, which has made millions of dollars out of loaning money to ZC at exorbitant interest rates. The fiasco is now well-known. Financial decisions taken by ZC management have appeared to be in the interests of the bank rather than cricket, and the game has sunk to pitiful levels.
Given the way Zimbabwe cricket’s fortunes have risen and fallen according to the type of men around Chingoka, one could conclude that he was never really the man in control. Rather, it seems that he was easily moved by stronger personalities even when he held a position of seniority. Former ZC employees who witnessed board meetings during the 2004 rebel saga talk about how Chingoka stood up for the players and insisted that a compromise needed to be struck for the good of cricket. But they say that he was shouted down by Bvute, who at the time was head of integration – a relatively junior post.
Instead of being guilty of leading Zimbabwe cricket into the doldrums, therefore, Chingoka was mostly complicit in it. In 2003, he accepted a £50,000 honorarium – an unprecedented reward – and latterly he took up a post on the Metbank board, thus involving himself in a clear conflict of interests. When he was asked to comment on why ZC had mismanaged the $6m loan from the ICC to the benefit of Metbank, he replied that “transactions were made at management level” in an apparent bid to distance himself and Manase from the issue and implicate Bvute, who was managing director at the time and is a major shareholder in Metbank. Yet there was no suggestion that, as head of a board responsible for holding management to account, Chingoka had taken issue with the dealings.
During the second half of his tenure, however, his presence was crucial to lending a sense of credibility to the board because he was the only one with any cricketing pedigree. Although the club chairmen Chingoka turned out for in the 1970s describe him as no better than an average player, he can always point to October 25, 1975 when, as an opening bowler for a South African African XI, he dismissed Barry Richards in a List A game at Kingsmead. That is a lot more than can be said for those who run the game in Zimbabwe these days, many of whom would not know cover from cow corner.
Chingoka’s departure will therefore have little influence on the direction of cricket in Zimbabwe – as the board’s latest decisions confirm. Andrew Waller and Brendan Taylor, two well-qualified men for their posts, have been sidelined using vague excuses in a bid to promote a coach who lost his cool to such an extent that he pushed a player during an international match last year, and a captain whose form struggled terribly with the added responsibility during his previous time in charge.
Zimbabwe’s back-to-back defeats at home to Afghanistan marked a new low for cricket in the country, but we can expect that particular barometer to be tested regularly in the coming years. ZC’s decisions continue to be made without the players’ well-being in mind, and so the talent drain will continue. Stephen Mangongo, the new national coach, played an admirable role in bringing some of Zimbabwe’s players through the junior levels but very few of them respect him as an international coach. If those players good enough to earn contracts elsewhere stay on in Zimbabwe after next month’s tri-series with South Africa and Australia, it will only be because of the lure of a World Cup in 2015.
Chingoka will still be around in a vague consultant’s capacity. According to ZC’s release on Thursday, he will “impart his knowledge based on experience both locally and on the international scene and at times undertake missions assigned by the board upon request.” This suggests that he could continue to represent ZC at key ICC meetings, where he was recently included on the ICC’s governance review committee.
Over the years, his neat politicking at the ICC, and in particular his ability to cosy up to India, has certainly prevented the game’s governing body from scrutinising ZC’s governance too much. Even as he was complicit in the wrecking of cricket in his country, Chingoka was responsible for maintaining Zimbabwe’s place at the game’s top table. It is a strange and ugly legacy he leaves behind.