By Joel Dubber
(Reuters) – In a decade bookended by African sporting accomplishment, from the continent hosting its first soccer World Cup to South Africa’s remarkable Rugby World Cup triumph, the game of cricket finds itself without a comparable crowning achievement to boost its profile in the region and generate much-needed revenue.
For Africa’s test-playing nations, administrative turmoil has defined the dying days of the 2010s.
Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) was left weakened after a failed boardroom coup in June and Cricket South Africa (CSA) was compelled to issue a public apology for its recent troubles, whilst scheduling a special board meeting on Saturday to address operational shortcomings.
Domestic legal battles, debt-busting austerity measures and the steady departure of top-class players to take up overseas contracts leaves CSA on an uneven footing at a time when on-field results are also under scrutiny.
Consecutive test whitewashes suffered against Sri Lanka and India signal that life beyond iconic players such as AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn will prove difficult, while a seventh-placed finish in the one-day international (ODI) World Cup in England this year fell below expectations for a team expected to be a title contender.
“That was probably our most disappointing time as a cricket team, as a cricketing nation. We were really playing good one-day cricket up until that point,” former Proteas batsman JP Duminy told Reuters.
“Losing our first four matches just really put us on the back foot and we didn’t have any answers.”
The decade had begun brightly for South Africa and by August 2012 the team topped the International Cricket Council (ICC) test rankings. Impressive series victories in England, Australia and Sri Lanka set the team up as a force to be reckoned with.
Talented youngsters like Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Aiden Markram have performed admirably at the top level and will be required to guide a smooth generational transition – one which will continue to be shaped by broader financial and governance issues.
“South Africa is renowned for its political challenges when it comes to sports,” Duminy said, noting his countrymen’s resilience.
“I think we’ve always come through that with flying colours irrespective of what challenges get thrown at us.”
Zimbabwe’s victorious, exile-ending return to test cricket in 2011 against Bangladesh and a 2017 ODI series win in Sri Lanka rank as highlights for a team which suffered many setbacks – including losing to Singapore, Netherlands and United Arab Emirates.
After missing out on the 2019 ODI World Cup, ZC’s lowest ebb came this year when an ICC suspension due to government interference at the board level resulted in disqualification from the Twenty20 World Cup qualifiers.
For Stephen Mangongo, a stalwart of ZC’s development system who coached the national team to an ODI victory against Australia in 2014, the saddest part about Zimbabwe’s decline has been the erosion of grassroots structures at school and club level.
“Zimbabwe has got fantastic weather, it has got natural sportspeople, so cricket should be able to grow in a good environment,” Mangongo told Reuters.
“Unfortunately, the development programme has taken a nose dive.”
Beyond the test arena, Namibia has benefited from inclusion in South Africa’s domestic competition and qualified for next year’s T20 World Cup, but eastern African teams like Uganda and Kenya are almost totally reliant on the ICC for resources.
Steve Tikolo, Uganda head coach, cites the scarcity of grounds and equipment as the biggest immediate challenge facing cricket in Africa’s developing countries.
“Cricket is an expensive game and our guys lack kit like bats, pads, gloves,” he remarked.
“At the moment the future is not bright.”
(Reporting by Joel Dubber, editing by Toby Davis)