News that Sean Ervine, one of the original “rebels” whose departure from the side in 2004 led to Zimbabwean cricket’s (ZC) sharp decline, is set to return to the side in time for the World Cup has been met with jubilation by most fans of the team. Newsday reported comments by Zimbabwe Cricket’s Convenor of Selectors, Alistair Campbell, that ZC expect to sign a contract with the player “soon”, bringing back to the side a player of undoubted all-round skill – invaluable to the side’s efforts to rebuild. Or at least, that’s the theory. Josh Taylor, with a vested interest in Ervine’s decision, and Zimbabwe Cricket supremo Bryan Morton discuss the implications.
Would bringing Ervine back to the national side be of benefit?
BM: As long ago as 2007, I was warning that the rebels returning in a playing capacity would be a mistake, and the record of those who have already tried to come back proves that. Mark Vermeulen returned in a blaze of glory in his first match back, scoring 92 in his comeback match against Bangladesh before going on to do nothing else. He was dropped from the national squad shortly after. Andy Blignaut also returned in dramatic style, making a good showing in last year’s Stanbic T20 before going on to under-perform in the tri-series against India and Sri Lanka – he’s since again withdrawn from playing. Ervine has the advantage, at least, of having continued playing in the interim – he’s done well with Hampshire in the intervening years (although Grant Flower was just out of playing for Essex when he made his return to the national side, ad look how well that turned out) – but playing ability isn’t the only problem here.
JT: I think caution should always be taken against returning players in any sport, especially if they have been plying their trade abroad. It seems that truths are often stretched, as it were, with the perceived abilities of these players. I worry about the hype and expectation that is being placed on Ervine, should he return. For some he is the saviour of Zimbabwe cricket, with claims that he should bat at 4 in the new test side, and be a swing bowling first change! I’ve seen Ervine play six years at Hampshire, and as much as it hurts to say it, such hopes will almost certainly be dashed. Ervine is at best a number six in the longest format, whilst he should only be thrown the ball as third change. The Zimbabwe selectors must take a good long look at what Ervine could bring to the team and not just pick because of who he is and the choices he made 6 years ago.
How will rebel returns impact on those already in the side?
BM: ZC has spent the past six years trying to rebuild a squad around a core of players (both black and white) who remained loyal to the side when the “rebels” didn’t. They’ve trained together, played together, won and lost together over that time – and one of them will have to go to make room for Ervine. But these are the guys we should now be building our future around, not discarding them in favour of players from the past whose time has come and gone.
JT: What has impressed me with the Zimbabwean selectors is their continued policy of selecting on merit, dare I say, more so than South Africa. The continued shunning of Hamilton Mazakadza and the obsession with Keith Dabengwa aside, it does seem that all players are in the side because they have earned their place. For that reason alone, I don’t think that those that stayed in Zimbabwe will be unfairly dropped. After the Grant Flower selection failure, the selectors will want to make sure that returning rebel players are deserving of their place, hopefully having to prove themselves domestically first.
So the original rebels will not make or break Zimbabwe as a re-emerging test nation?
BM: It should not be thought that the “rebels” don’t have a role to play – it’s just not on the field of play. Heath Streak, Grant Flower, Davy Houghton are the ones showing the way, coming back to fill coaching and administrative roles as people who have the experience, on and off field, to help make sure that our new, younger players are developed properly and given the best possible chance to succeed. These are the people who led ZC through the process of gaining Test status in the first place, and who built the side of ten years ago into one that, while it wasn’t the best in the world, was one that most other teams knew could spring upsets and were suitably wary of. Working behind the scenes, they can do it again. But please, leave th e players of the former generation off the field – it’s time for the “new” generation to take up the strain.
JT: Certainly those ‘advanced’ in years should only be brought back in a mentoring capacity, but the board should be actively seeking to bring back those that have developed overseas, if only to increase depth in quality. Though perhaps not automatic first choices, the likes of Anthony Ireland, James Cameron and Colin de Grandhomme can still offer something of value to Zimbabwe Cricket as a whole, both in terms of cricketing skill and in forging a new, progressive identity for a country that deserves a place amongst the top cricket nations.