The banner read “Zim players should be arrested and face treason.” Yes, the official fan-club of the Zimbabwe cricket team were accusing their players of having betrayed the nation and wanted them incarcerated. It wasn’t the first time a bunch of partisan supporters were venting their frustration against their national team. But never before had they turned on their team with such unbridled ferocity. You couldn’t blame them. Fifteen minutes earlier, the home team score had read 106/3, and Vusi Sibanda and Sikander Raza had batted their team into a position of strength. Then in a period of 15 insane minutes, Zimbabwe were bowled out for 126. The fans had had enough. And this wasn’t a small section of rogue fans that was letting their team know what they thought of them. This was the group that call themselves the Zimbabwe Cricket Supporters Union (ZCSU), an entity officially recognized by the cricket board, their own version of the Barmy Army.
On any given day, regardless of what was happening on the field, if the Zimbabwe players needed inspiration they just had to look towards the Castle Corner on the far side of the Harare Sports Club. For the ZCSU-that charges a $10 joining fee and a monthly subscription fee of $5-was always there to cheer and goad them along. But on Monday, it was one section of the ground that they didn’t want to look towards. For, the ZCSU had not just intentionally abandoned their citadel; they were also making a point by simply leaving a banner that read, “What a Shame”.
They had instead shifted base to the neighbouring stand from where they were launching their tirade. And by the time India began their run-chase-40 minutes prior to the official lunch-break-they all stood together brandishing banners that expressed their sentiments, including the one that demanded their players to be ‘arrested’. Some were indicative of their angst, while others were plain cheeky. It ranged from “We Cannot support disaster, catastrophe, quagmire of epic proportions” to “What a disgrace do you have love for fans?” to the more sarcastic “I Only win at fantasy cricket” and “First XI fans v India”. One of the ZCSU members even thought that his team’s performance was disgusting enough to apologize to the opposition captain holding a placard that read, “MS, we-a Sorry”. Another held one that read, “Taylor Wakauraya”, blaming former captain Brendon Taylor for having destroyed Zimbabwe cricket.
And they also broke away from their usual songs in praise of their cricketers to booing them garishly in Shona, the predominant language spoken by the locals here. Considering that the Harare Sports Club was more or less empty otherwise, only made it worse for the Zimbabweans as the boos echoed around the ground. To the extent that it even caught the attention of the Indian batsmen in the middle.
“I could easily have been earning money for my family today but I’m instead here supporting this team,” shouted the loudest member of the group to which another quickly responded cheekily saying, “Thankfully I’m unemployed.” It was anger that had been simmering among the fans for quite a while now, and it was just a matter of time before it came out. But not many expected it to explode the way it did. Zimbabwe cricket has been on the brink for a while now. It has already been pushed down the pecking order with the national football team having qualified for the African Cup of Nations for the first time in 10 years. For the record, on Saturday when the cricket team was humbled by the Indians in the first ODI, the Warriors held Swaziland to a 2-2 draw in their opening match. There is no dearth of hardships that the average Zimbabwean has to endure on a daily basis, the cash-crisis being the latest. And despite the rapid decline in their fortunes, their cricket team has been looked at as a source of some solace by the locals here. It was for this very reason that Vivian and Louie, two brothers, established the ZCSU around 10 years ago. But on Monday, it was Vivian, or Chairman as he’s generally referred to, who led the vociferous and vitriolic protest.
“We are not asking for much. We don’t expect them to win but just be competitive,” he said before leading the next series of jeers. The implosion in the Zimbabwe middle-order may have been the breaking point for their fans but it was another day where things only went from bad to worse for the home team. They picked Sean Williams in place of Craig Ervine because he had pulled his hamstring. Then minutes after the toss, Williams hurt his finger during warm-ups, ensuring that he could play no part in the match even before it began.
And not everyone at the Harare Sports Club was on the same page as the ZCSU or the manner in which they had decided to express their dissent. At the other end of the ground, former seamer Douglas Hondo and injured seamer Tinashe Panyangara could only shake their heads in disappointment at their fan-club’s swerve. It’s not easy being a Zimbabwean cricketer either. Day after day, he has to put his career on the line for returns that aren’t as lucrative as his counterparts around the world. On an average the top players get no more than $5000 to 6000 per month, with the juniors earning as meagre a sum as $1000.
And Sibanda understandably wasn’t too pleased with the vocal admonishment that he and his team had to contend with during the second ODI.
“It gets bad when they get personal. We are out there trying our best and we expect them to at least back us to the hilt. I don’t like saying this but I was almost tempted to tell them to try and do what we do for one day and see if they can cope with it,” he said.
“With so much happening in the country, the least we can expect is for them to be realistic,” he added.
In two years, Zimbabwe cricket would have reached its make-or-break point with their ODI team looking for World Cup qualification and their long-format team facing Ireland in a one-off encounter at Lord’s with their Test status up for stake. And as Sibanda says, the least they can expect is for their fans to stick with them, and not publicly accuse them of treason. Or as Sibanda put it, “It’s not like India where the common man cannot relate to the privileged lives of their cricketers. We are everyday guys like them trying to earn our bread through hard-work.”