Mary-Anne Musonda was hitting balls at training when she got the call that told her just how dire things were at Zimbabwe Cricket.
It was Monday. Musonda, the captain of the national women’s team, had a flight to catch on Thursday to England, where she’d get a rare chance to play cricket against some of the best in the world. She’d started packing. Everything was in place. Her notebook, in which she’d recorded her goals for the tournament, was ready. How she was going to bat, what she wanted to achieve, how she would represent her country – she’d visualised it all. And now, suddenly, she had nowhere to go.
In an email, the ICC had told her, three of her team-mates and the coach that they could no longer travel to the UK to join the Women’s Global Development Squad (WGDS). The WGDS programme brings together players and coaches from outside the top eight women’s teams (except for the Pakistan captain this time) for a series of matches in the UK, giving them a chance to play and train in the Kia Super League environment. But this, too, was now out of bounds for Zimbabwe’s cricketers, since their board, mired in financial irregularities, had been suspended and barred from participation in all ICC tournaments.
I'm gutted. This is wrong and unjust. We cant be the team that almost made it. No! Do the right thing. We are bleeding to death. You are watching. Y? When will you exercise ur authority with Zim at heart? Kindly provide a logical ans. @ZimbabweSrc @KirstyCoventry @advocatemahere
— Mary-Anne Musonda ?? (@Mutsa13) July 22, 2019
A few weeks ago, when their tour of Ireland and the Netherlands was cancelled, the ‘Lady Chevrons’ got a sense that all was not well. “But I didn’t think it would get to a point where we were being excluded,” a downbeat Musonda tells Wisden. “Now we are living in the reality that it might happen to us” – the reality that they may not get to play the World Cup qualifiers, the biggest tournament in their careers so far, either.
“Our hearts just sank. That was painful,” adds Sharne Mayers, the former captain. “You’re always hoping that regardless of what happens, cricket will still be played on the ground. The suspension is the worst-case scenario.”
Mayers is also an international hockey umpire. As a young girl, when she saw clips of Karen Rolton and Haidee Tiffen on TV, she had stars in her eyes. And this was supposed to be her year. Injuries had slowed her down, and her team had been disappointing in the 2017 World Cup qualifiers. But last year, she spent some time playing in New Zealand. The captaincy load off her shoulder, she was thriving as a batter. When the Women’s Africa Qualifiers came by, she was Player of the Tournament. The WGDS and World Cup qualifier were the next big opportunities.
@KirstyCoventry the pain of not participating in the ICCWomen Cricket Global Qualifiers is killing us.We are not ready to give up on what we have sacrificed for.We want to raise Zimbabwe's flag high.Please help us so that we can be able to participate @Mutsa13 @MutasaNomatter
— Anesu Mushangwe (@anesu_mushangwe) July 22, 2019
“You go through all the emotions,” she says. “We’ve spoken about everyone putting their lives on hold, and the sacrifices they’ve made. Personally, I’ve sacrificed my career as a teacher and sports administrator to focus on playing. It was really painful, really hard, just trying to work through all the emotions, trying to make sure you’re not a bitter person.”
Hockey is not a career Mayers can fall back on, if things don’t improve with Zimbabwe Cricket. Musonda will graduate in December with a master’s degree in development finance, but she’d turned down roles to commit to cricket this year. They, like their team-mates, have had to dip into savings. The Zimbabwe team is unique in that several of the players are young mothers.
“Imagine having two or three kids at home, and you’ve sustained them through cricket. And now there’s no more cricket. How best are you going to sustain them? What are you going to tell your kids?” asks Musonda. “Some girls also help their families with sibling school fees, groceries at home … imagine if that’s taken away, it would be a disaster.”
It especially stung that the blow came just when the team was on an upward curve. Despite the mess around the board, the team went unbeaten this year – although it’s been the busiest year for them in a while. For the last couple of years, most of the squad has been on contracts, and been able to consider pursuing cricket full time. After they failed to make the World T20 Qualifier last year, they sat down to ask themselves, where is the team going? Why is it important to perform? What does winning games mean to them?
“We found the team vision was a little blurred,” explains Musonda. “We did not know what team culture or team vision is. We were not seeing ourselves as professional, we weren’t seeing the opportunity that was there for us, that ‘this is how we want people to look at us. We are professional cricketers.’”
?️ Sharne Mayers' half-century and a tight effort from the bowlers helped Zimbabwe seal a 163-run win over Mozambique in their ICC Women's Qualifier 2019 – Africa opener.
The highlights ? pic.twitter.com/vdi0JIJmpf
— ICC (@ICC) May 6, 2019
It’s hard in Zimbabwe these days. It’s been that way for a while, really. The worthless dollar, the soaring unemployment rates, the tough job market, the wage gap, the gender norms, the challenges of simply making ends meet all find a mention in our conversations. For these cricketers, their fight is personal — about a job, and for a living. But it’s also about something bigger than themselves.
Their plea to the Sports and Recreation Committee, the government body whose actions against ZC triggered the ICC action, and to the ICC itself, is simple: “Let us get on with the game while you sort things out”.
“We want to go to Scotland. We want to play in the World Cup Qualifier,” Mayers says vehemently. “These opportunities don’t come around very often for women in our country. The strides we are making to go forward, all we’re trying to do is go as far as we can, so when the next generation comes, they don’t have to go through the hardships we’ve gone through.
“We also don’t want to be the last group that plays cricket in this country at the highest level. We’re trying to make sure that cricket doesn’t die, especially for girls. There’s many of my teammates that have little girls that have grown up watching us, and you want to make sure we do good by them.”