HARARE – Throughout my years as a cricket journalist, I have always wondered why Zimbabwean crowds are slow in filtering into either Harare Sports Club, or Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo.
My introduction to international cricket was in February 1995. It was 18 years ago, but, I remember it like it was yesterday.
It was the first of a three-test match series between Zimbabwe and Pakistan, and the home side had enforced the follow on after they had racked up 544/4 declared.
I had only been back in the country as a full time resident for a few short months after concluding my schooling in South Africa.
So, when my father, my late brother and I went to the ground, I was excited as a schoolgirl going on her first date.
The difference of course was that I certainly was no girl, and my date was to see Zimbabwe win their first ever Test match.
What puzzles me, however, is that the ground already had sizable crowds long before the first ball had been bowled.
The atmosphere was tangible and the excitement very high. The adults would be speculating as to how important the toss would be and, who would be playing while the little ones would be on the outfield, deeply engrossed in their own cricket games.
So, when the first ball was bowled, the home team already had well over a thousand supporters, cheering and encouraging their heroes.
Cricket now has a much bigger following from a variety of walks of life, and yet, you are lucky to see a hundred people in the stands when the first ball is bowled.
Even in a one day international. Is it maybe due to luxuries such as satellite television and the internet?
Personally, I would not think so as there are still a number of Zimbabweans who love the game, but, who cannot afford satellite television, or access to the Internet.
Back in the early nineties, we relied on good old Radio 1 to give us our dose of cricket updates, and although they were good, they were few and far between.
So has the advent of all the added social networks made the public lazy?
There has also been a school of thought that the Zimbabwean public have become fed up with a combination of things.
The first one, is the regular tours by Bangladesh.
And the second annoyance is that when other teams tour the country, they leave out their star players, saying that the heavy demands of international cricket have taken their toll.
A fair point, but, try and explain that to a nation starved and deprived of international cricket. But in less than a month’s time, the Indian national team arrive.
And, unlike three years ago, they have pulled no punches, and, taken no chances when they announced an almost full strength squad, save for the exclusion of MS Dhoni, who sadly injured himself on India’s current tour of the West Indies.
So, how will the crowds respond to such a formidable team touring the country? Even if they have not been able to see India in action, they would have heard enough to know that India are by far and away the world’s number one ranked team in one day international cricket, having won both the ICC World Cup back in 2011, as well as the final addition of the ICC Champions Trophy.
What really amused me, was to hear some so called cricket fans say things like.
“We will beat them again because we beat them three years ago when those same players were here”.
Well, a lot of those very same players will most certainly be here, but, the difference between then and now is that those group of talented but raw players have developed into a very good team who want to win and who are proud to represent their nation.
But, as cricket lovers, this is what we have all been waiting for. Finally we will be playing a team other than Bangladesh, and, finally a team has sent out a full strength or at least, a very close to full strength team to do battle with Zimbabwe.
From a player’s perspective, they surely must be as excited as the fans! Knowing that if they do well against this team, it would be a massive confidence booster, as well as a huge feather in the cap from a personal point of view.
So, India have kept their side of the bargain by agreeing to tour Zimbabwe, and, the added bonus is that they are sending their best team.
Zimbabwe have made a few statements which sound very promising. Now, it is up to the crowds to get on down to the two venues, pack the grounds to the rafters, and, make some noise.
No excuses this time.