Former Zimbabwe selector Andrew Pycroft stepped down from his post the day Zimbabwe were to play Kenya in the World Cup, citing communication difficulties with the rest of the selectors. The former international cricketer is also part of the ICC sub-committee that is examining Kenya's application for Test status. The retirement of batting great Andy Flower and the controversy surrounding Henry Olonga has got Zimbabwe cricket into the world's focus. Pycroft spoke to Ashish Magotra about the problems facing Zimbabwean cricket and Kenya's good show in this World Cup.
After only a few years on the international scene, Zimbabwe seemed to be improving, but now their cricket seems to be in a complete downslide ...
It would be unfair to judge Zimbabwe by their performance in the just-concluded World Cup. They did not beat any of the big sides and lost to Kenya, but there are a lot of issues to be resolved. Like the policy on selection and the policy of using senior players rather than just bringing in the youngsters. The selectors and the administration need to understand that you need to keep some experienced players while blooding youngsters. And I think none of it is really happening, to be honest.
Andy Flower's decision to retire... what does it mean to Zimbabwean cricket?
Andy has been outstanding. His decision is as much about his future as it is about Zimbabwean cricket. He will be missed, no doubt about that, but I am not too concerned as long as the selectors realize that you need to keep a few experienced players in the team. You cannot just put in youngsters and expect them to shine straight away.
You stepping down as a selector... was that decision influenced by Zimbabwe's performance in the World Cup?
It had something to do with the fact that I was not being communicated with by the other selectors. In Zimbabwe, we have a system where one of the selectors tours with the side. Stephen Mangongo was doing that during the World Cup; they knew I was going to be in South Africa anyways. I was called back on to the panel to sort out various political hassles and lend some credibility to the panel; there is not a lot of international playing experience there. What ended up happening was that I was not being consulted at all, and when they did consult, I was told the side is already sorted out; this player is not debatable, that player is not debatable. If you can't communicate on the selection panel, can't debate the players' place in the side, I don't want to be part of the panel at all.
Tatenda Taibu, the young wicketkeeper, seems to be a great find for Zimbabwean cricket
Tatenda is unique in the way that he is not only a good player with a lot of talent but he also knows exactly where he is going. He has a very good mind and has worked his game out. It's not always that you find youngsters who can do that. For an Indian parallel you have Sachin Tendulkar. I am not saying that Tatenda is in the Tendulkar bracket, but on the mental side, he is like Sachin. There are not too many youngsters who mature at such an early age. Having said that I think Zimbabwe has a lot of talented youngsters coming through and have a good Under-19 side as well. But they need a plan of action about how to bring them through, without exposing them to international cricket straightaway and then dropping them. Zimbabwe has a very good pool of players but I am not too sure we handle them correctly.
What kind of domestic structure does Zimbabwe have?
We have inter-provincial cricket which is contested by four sides. The structure is there and what we have been quite good about it is that we have only four sides. When you have a small pool of players you don't want too many sides because then the quality of cricket played goes down. Yes, we can see the players perform and then draft them into the team. One of my criticisms is the Zimbabwe 'A' side, the second-string team has had no cricket in the last 18 months. It's all very nice having a good domestic set-up but the second string has had no cricket. That is where lies our problem, because now you are feeding players directly from domestic cricket into the international arena.
The Zimbabwean team selection for the World Cup had a lot of strange decisions for example, someone like Henry Olonga, who can be a match-winner on his day, did not play a match.
It's difficult for me to argue or answer that because I was part of the selection committee and do not want to speak out of the committee, but what I will say is that not all the wickets in South Africa would have suited him. The wickets in East London and Bloemfontein were not very quick. Having said that, there is the argument that he should have played anyways and he was bowling better in the nets during the World Cup than I have seen him for a very long time. Henry is also a brilliant fielder and if there was a choice between Douglas Hondo and Henry, I think Henry would get the nod because of his fielding ability as well. But there is a committee of six that makes the decision.
Zimbabwe is producing good all-rounders. Heath Streak, Andy Blignaut, Travis Friend and Sean Ervine, all seem to be very good
That augurs well for Zimbabwean cricket and as long as they keep playing, they will continue to improve. In the last year, we have seen Blignaut make rapid strides in international cricket and I will put Ervine in the same bracket, only he is young and does not have too much experience.
There, I make the point that you don't want a whole lot of youngsters playing; you need some experience in there and, secondly, you need to rotate them properly. But what annoys me is that when you play the World Cup, you need to pick your best side; horses for courses. Like when the track is aiding spin, you should have more spinners in your attack. The selectors can't be 3000 miles away when they pick the side and that is what tends to happen in Zimbabwean cricket.
Do you think politics interferes with Zimbabwean cricket?
Yes, I do think so. I think we can see it on television. We want to bring young players in and I agree to all the criticims but what I do not agree to is the fact that I have the most cricket knowledge in the committee, I was the one at the grounds during the World Cup, I was talking to the players and was not consulted at all. I could not accept that.
England not going to Zimbabwe, what was the reaction to that back home?
I think people had a divided opinion. On the political front, people thought that it brought the situation in the country to the notice of the world, but as far as the security issue was concerned, I would have loved to see them go. There was no concern with the security there. If it was a security issue then it's absolute rubbish. I don't want to be dragged into political issues; I am a cricketer and I think the hall of cricket should only concern cricket. For the same reason, I think there should be more cricketers than politicians in the administration of the game.
Fellow African nation Kenya made it to the semis. How do you view their achievement?
I think they had a magnificent tournament. A lot a lot of people will argue the fact that one of the weaker teams made it to the World Cup semi-finals but they played with a lot of passion and as a team. That is what Zimbabwe are not doing at the moment. There are too many issues troubling the players. I am not saying that the players are always right but they need to be part of the process; there needs to be fewer political issues in the game.
On Kenya's performance as a whole, I cannot realy comment, because I am in the ICC sub-committee looking at their application for Test status. But what I can say is that being a good ODI nation does not make it a good Test-playing nation. The game has not really spread too much in Kenya. There are too many relations in the team. Despite all that they performed very well and everyone should not question how they reached the semi-finals but ask themselves, 'What did Kenya do to get there?'.
When you talk about Kenya doing well, Bangladesh has been a complete disaster in Tests. Do you think these nations need to play domestic cricket in one of the Test-playing nations to gain some valuable experience?
I do. First of all, I think they need to have a good domestic structure in place. They need to tour a lot more. They obviously know their conditions well and enjoy the slow conditions. But to know their true strength they need to tour some place for at least two months. But I am surprised Bangladesh have gone backwards. They have a million cricketers there; why are they not producing good players? I don't know what the situations are, but it is a serious worry for international cricket.
Andy Flower, one of the world's best batsmen, has retired. Will Zimbabwe cricket be able to survive in his absence?
Every side has to go through this. All great players have to retire. Andy may have had a lot more cricket left in him but he has to look to the future; he may take up coaching or whatever he wants to do. Andy was the mentor of this side and he can already see the young players start a new trend. He can already see them go by him. They might not be as good as him but if they can learn how to copy even half the things he did, Zimbabwe will be in safe hands. The players have to show that they can fill his boots. It can be disconcerting but the side moves on; life goes on.