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Memories of Zimbabwe 2004

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Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe greets England captain Mike Atherton at the Harare Sports Club. Mugabe’s Presidential Palace was right next to the cricket ground.

by Rex Clementine

There are many good things about writing for The Island and one of them is that you get to see every game that Sri Lanka plays at home, every Test match they play overseas and all major ICC events. One of those memorable tours was Zimbabwe 2004. On the cricket field, Sri Lanka whitewashed Zimbabwe and Murali claimed the World Record for the first time breaking Courtney Walsh’s record for most wickets in Tests. Off the field, the Sri Lankan reporters had a firsthand experience of the plight of Zimbabwe people due to poverty, high inflation, unemployment, shrinking foreign reserves, power cuts and food shortage. Something similar to what we are experiencing back home at present.

It must be said that 18 years ago we never expected to get a taste of Zimbabwe’s medicine in our backyard one day.

It was a six week tour. What was really saddening to note was the high inflation and as a result devaluation of currency. When we landed in Harare, the exchange rate was for one US Dollar you got 4500 Zimbabwe Dollars. By the time the tour was over, after 40 days, the exchange rate was for one US Dollar 5200 Zimbabwe Dollars! The currency had no value. If you went to a bank to cash 100 US$, you had to carry a bag as you would get vast amount of money. Money of little use.

Last month, when we went to India, the exchange rate was for one Indian Rupee we paid 2.6 Sri Lankan Rupees. Three weeks later, by the time the tour was over, it had gone up by massive scales as we had to pay 3.6 Sri Lankan Rupees for one Indian Rupee. Today, one INR is equal to 4:15 LKR! All of it happening in a matter of one month. It’s really scary to think of returning to India in December for the ODI leg of the tour.

Coming back to Zimbabwe, like Sri Lanka, it’s a beautiful country. Their main sources of income are agriculture and tourism with the stunning Victoria Falls being the star attraction. We had booked the train to get there. But when we reached the station we were informed that the train had been cancelled due to shortage of fuel. Eventually, we made it to the falls thanks to a Sri Lankan Doctor practicing in Harare by the name of Anion Anthony. He drove us all the way to Victoria Falls. Eventually, as the country’s situation worsened he migrated to New Zealand.

There were protests all across Zimbabwe especially in the main cities of Harare and Bulawayo. President Robert Mugabe ruled with an iron fist. The cricket board chief was one of his buddies, Peter Chingoka. There was this press conference in Harare where a journalist writing for AFP by the name of John Kelly asked some uncomfortable questions. Chingoka literally threatened the journalist to withdraw his question or face the consequences. Poor Kelly had little choice. Chingoka, a chain smoker, died a few years ago. Haven’t heard from Kelly in a while.

President Mugabe’s ill advised policies were a major reason for crashing of Zimbabwe economy. So what did he actually do? Well, he just ordered acres of farm land owned by whites to be distributed among the majority blacks. Eventually, the blacks had the lands but they did not have the knowledge on agriculture or how to handle equipment. It should have been probably done over a period of time. Not overnight. The whites migrated in vast numbers and there were massive food shortage. There were sanctions imposed by western countries and the economy crashed faster than Zimbabwe’s cricket team.

Mugabe’s palace was right next to the Harare Sports Club. That’s where Murali broke the World Record. We would get off the taxi and walk to the ground with the Presidential Palace just opposite us. It was heavily guarded and photographs or loitering was not allowed.

In order to discourage journalists from coming to Zimbabwe, Mugabe had a strange rule. Although we had accreditation from the Zimbabwe Cricket Board, every reporter had to register with the Media Ministry and obtain a pass. For which we had to pay a princely sum of US$ 250 each! You were issued the pass provided you signed a document assuring that you didn’t write anything bad about the political developments in the country. Some journalists got into trouble like Mihir Bose, the BBC Sports Editor, who had flown to Zimbabwe to report Murali breaking the World Record. They had kept a close eye on what he had been reporting. Security forces visited his hotel room and deported him. Pretty scary scenes.

The military in Zimbabwe was powerful. Government servants were often corrupt.

Mugabe and his wife Grace were accused of embezzling the country’s wealth. There were allegations that he had secret accounts in Switzerland and castles in Scotland. Their children lived extravagant lives while the rest of the country was starving.

Most of Mugabe’s travel within the country was done in helicopters. It was a frequent sight from the press box to see helicopters flying over us. Not just one at a time but three due to security reasons.

Soon after Sri Lanka finished their tour, Australia landed in Zimbabwe. However, the tour was cancelled as the Australian government had concerns about human rights violations in the country. It was very strange for a cricket team to arrive in a country and fly back home without playing a single game.

Despite the anger and frustration among the locals, Zimbabweans were peaceful people and never did we witness or read about violence or crime. It was a beautiful, clean country and had superb infrastructure. Every local we met from the taxi drivers to security guards spoke perfect English.

Mugabe’s power hunger saw the country from being the granary of Africa becoming one of the poorest in the world.



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SLR sees tradition challenged during troubled times 

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by A Special Sports Correspondent 

Rugby in Sri Lanka is at a standstill and there are many reasons for this. The main reason for this is Asian Rugby (AR) suspending the membership of Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR); the controlling body for rugby in Sri Lanka. The other reason is the chaotic situation in the country which has been brought about largely by the economic crisis.

This puts paid to Sri Lanka taking part in any regional tournaments. That could mean Sri Lanka’s chances of contesting the rugby sevens event of the upcoming Commonwealth Games is also in jeopardy. But there could be a way out of this murky situation for SLR if it conducts the AGM and has a free and fair election. AR is monitoring the rugby activities in Sri Lanka and even sent one of its representatives here to study the situation. AR proposed having the SLR AGM.

Our investigations into the events that have taken place in Sri Lanka’s rugby scene reveal that AR has found out that a democratic atmosphere doesn’t exist within the fraternity that the SLR controls. A representative from AR was here in April to conduct a probe on the rugby set-up here. The probe, according to news reports published in the web and leading national newspapers, revealed that all stakeholders of the game are not equally represented in SLR’s decision-making environment. Also, it has been revealed that the decision taken to suspend the SLR’s membership has been taken with the interest of maintaining Asian Rugby’s principles which are equality, transparency, and accountability.

It is also learned that the AR representative had made it known that the rugby set-up here in Sri Lanka was in need of an Annual General Meeting (AGM). This AGM would be called upon by the National Olympic Committee as desired by AR. A letter indicating the above has been sent to the minister of sports. According to the SLR its AGM is scheduled for August 27.

One of the major issues in local rugby is that Western Province Rugby Football Union (WPRFU)-the union with the highest number of rugby clubs-has been denied voting rights at past AGMs due to the nonpayment of membership fees to the SLR. The clubs within the WPRFU have come together as a force and made a request through the competent authority- appointed by the former sports minister to control rugby-to grant voting rights to individual clubs at the AGM. This is because the WPRFU is facing obstacles in contesting this AGM. This practice of clubs voting at the SLR AGM was done away with many years ago. An SLR official asked why these clubs representatives now want to return to an old system of having voting rights for clubs when most of these individuals, when serving the SLR as officials, were quite happy with provincial unions having voting rights some years ago?

Rugby in Sri Lanka was once a happy family. This writer remembers the manner in which tradition was preserved at past AGMs. There was one year when the bidding present of the SLR (Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union then) Michael Jayasekara was challenged at a vote by another candidate for the post of president. Jayasekara withdrew his nomination at the last hour to ensure maintaining the tradition of the bidding present of the SLR not be contested at a vote.

Rugby AGMs in the past have been ‘healthy’ and camaraderie has prevailed even during a voting for other posts. These get-togethers have been like parties and representatives of clubs and provinces have caught up on old times after the voting concluded and new committees were formed. At present provincial unions are fighting for their ‘pound of flesh’ and dirty politics exists.

Just a few weeks ago the WPRFU organised an open club rugby sevens tournament and received much response from clubs. Several schools were also invited to take part in the tournament. WPRFU officials were quoted in newspapers saying that the purpose of organizing the rugby sevens tournament was to give an opportunity to club players to play rugby sevens because they were denied chances of playing rugby due to the  obstacles caused by the COVID pandemic during the past couple of years.  But the chaotic political and economic situation in the country didn’t support the commencement of this tournament, which was scheduled for May 14. As many as 18 teams had confirmed participation. For the record, last year, the WPRFU conducted the ‘Warriors Cup’ sevens tournament with much success.

In the same manner, the inter-club league rugby tournament is to be discontinued. This is due to the chaotic situation in the country. According to SLR President Rizly Illyas the council is in the process of naming table leaders Kandy SC as the winner; by taking into consideration points accumulated.

When contacted SLR President Rizly Illyas said that he together with his committee, overseeing the rugby operations in the island, has always given blessings to each provincial union to conduct its own tournaments.

The SLR headed by Illyas recorded a victory recently when they managed to bring an interim order suspending the enactment of the Gazette issued by the Ex-sports minister suspending the registration of the SLR with the Ministry of Sports. The interim order was issued by the Court of Appeal and is effective till June 30, according to news reports.

Illyas said that he hopes that there would be a free and fair election.

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Mathews and Dhananjaya keep Sri Lanka alive in second Test 

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Angelo Mathews and Dhananjaya de Silva each hit a fifty and put on a 102-run partnership to keep Sri Lanka going strong in the rain-hit second Test against Bangladesh yesterday.

Mathews remained unbeaten on 58 after de Silva went out with the same score to take Sri Lanka to 282-5 at stumps on the third day, still trailing Bangladesh by 83 runs.

Rain washed out entire post-lunch session but the duo stepped up their scoring rate to make up for lost time, with de Silva striking nine fours before Shakib Al Hasan got his wicket.

The right-hander, who faced 95 balls, was initially given not out on a caught-behind appeal before Bangladesh successfully reviewed.

Mathews, who smashed four fours and a six, was batting with Dinesh Chandimal on 10 at stumps.

Bangladesh made early inroads after Sri Lanka resumed on 143-2, Ebadot Hossain bowling nightwatchman Kasun Rajitha for a duck with the second ball of the day.

A gem of a delivery from Shakib dismissed Dimuth Karunaratne for 80 soon afterwards, with the Sri Lankan skipper adding 10 to his overnight score.

Shakib tossed the ball up on off-stump and Karunatne went for a drive but saw the flighted delivery dip and turn between bat and pad before crashing into his stumps.

Karunaratne, who was dropped on 37, struck nine boundaries in his 15th Test fifty.

De Silva hit Ebadot for three fours in one over just before the break after he and Mathews survived a difficult spell from the right-arm pace bowler and Shakib.

Shakib, the most successful bowler for Bangladesh so far, has claimed 3-59.

Apart from Shakib and Ebadot, the rest of Bangladesh bowlers failed to keep the pressure up serving too many boundary balls and the visitors were quick to cash in.

After losing Karunaratne early in the day, Mathews and de Silva were watchful and waited till the final session to up the tempo.

Sri Lanka will be eying a big first innings score and bat just once and then put the hosts under pressure with six more sessions remaining in the game. The wicket has offered some assistance for spinners but Sri Lanka’s spin duo of Ramesh Mendis and Praveen Jayawickrama hardly troubled the batsmen in the first innings. All nine Bangladesh wickets to fall for the bowlers were claimed by quicks with Kasun Rajitha accounting for his first five wicket haul. Asitha Fernnado finished with four wickets.

 Bangladesh staged a remarkable recovery after being reduced to 24 for five as Liton Das (141) and Mushfiqur Rahim (175*) added a record 282 run stand for the sixth wicket.

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Karunaratne solid in Sri Lanka reply after Mushfiqur heroics

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Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne made an unbeaten 70 as Sri Lanka reached 143 for two at stumps on day two of the second Test against Bangladesh on Tuesday.

Sri Lanka openers Dimuth Karunaratne and Oshada Fernando struck half-centuries to help the visitors end the second day of the first Test against Bangladesh on 143 for two in Dhaka on Tuesday. While Oshada Fernando fell for 57, Dimuth Karunaratne stayed unbeaten on 70 with Sri Lanka still trailing by 222 after restricting Bangladesh to 365.

The day, however, belonged to Mushfiqur Rahim, who struck an unbeaten 175, and Kasun Rajitha, who bagged his maiden five-wicket haul. Bangladesh had staged a remarkable recovery in the opening day when they went from being 24 for five to ending the day on 277 for 5.

Litton Das was the first to fall on the second day – for 141 – as the 272-run stand with Rahim came to an end. Taijul Islam resisted for a bit while Rahim kept the runs coming but Sri Lanka too kept chipping away. Asitha Fernando ended with four with Ebadot Hossain becoming the last man to fall – to a run out as Rahim was left stranded.

Both Fernando and Karunaratne came out attacking and scored 84 in the first 22 overs to take the side to tea without any loss.

Fernando successfully reviewed a caught-behind decision against him to survive a close call while Karunaratne fetched his first boundary of the innings when he flicked Hossain behind square. The start was completely in contrast to the one Bangladesh made against the new ball on the first day. With wickets not appearing to come anytime soon, Mominul Haque turned to spin as early as in the eighth over as he brought on Shakib Al Hasan and Mosaddek Hossain.

Bangladesh finally struck in the fourth over post tea when Fernando fell to a poor shot against Ebadot. The pacer could have had two in the over but the team decided against a review against Karunaratne on the second ball of the over. Karunaratne was then given another reprieve when a sharp chance was dropped by the short leg fielder off the bowling of Taijul Islam.

Three overs before close, Kusal Mendis fell lbw to Shakib al Hasan after a patient 49-ball 11as Bangladesh managed to even things out but will be well aware there’s plenty of work remaining to be done on the third day, especially on a good track.

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