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It's raining on Australia's parade

By Peter Roebuck
February 22, 2003 22:48 IST
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Torrential rain has swept across Matabeleland this weekend, putting in doubt a match eagerly awaited by cricket followers in the region.

Ordinarily, the rains arrive in November but the drought held, till last week's showers presaged the thunder and lightning of the  past 40 hours. Although the covering at the Bulawayo ground is top-class, the field is waterlogged and it'll take some hot Zimbabwean sunshine to allow the match to start on time. Helicopters may be used in a last ditch attempt to dry the ground.

At least the rains will cheer those farmers still able to plant crops and those trying to raise stock. Unfortunately, most farms have been devastated and former workers have been forced to go gold-panning in old mines in a desperate attempt to pay for food.  Even those with jobs  often go to bed with empty stomachs.  Some of the new farmers sell fertiliser and seeds provided by a government keen to prove that it can still feed its people.  Even baboons are feeling the pinch, and a large group descended upon Falcon College this month, searching for fodder usually available in the country.
Falcon has long beeen the backbone of Matabeleland cricket, producing lots of players for province and country. It is a strong sporting school whose pupils are apt to come across cobras on their afternoon strolls. This is not a place for the faint-hearted and its products are often strong, silent types who stay for the long run. Sons of cabinet ministers mix with the offspring of farmers recently ejected from their land and nowadays living in townhouses in the city.
Meanwhile, the leader of the opposition's trial on treason charges continues so openly that my orphans were able to walk into court to watch the exchanges. Ferocious opposition newspapers are sold upon the streets. It is a country of contradictions. Perhaps it is all part of an illusion of normality.
State schools are having a hard time as they try to maintain their cricket without funds or water. At such times sport has a low priority, yet the boys of Milton college were up early on Saturday, walking or catching the minibuses to school before embarking on the journey to Plumtree, a robust establishment that nursed Henry Olonga from child to man, though the nursing was of the roughest sort. Olonga returns now and then, though not to play cricket or even sing with his soaring voice. He is a Zambian and accordingly independent.
Alas, the rain stopped any  school or club cricket being played over the weekend, which allowed enthusiasts to watch the South Africans, whose demise is eagerly awaited by all and sundry. There is a view taken locally that the neighbours down south have not done much to advance the cause of Zimbabwean cricket -- or anything else.
Otherwise, the super 12 competiton dominates the attention of dispaced farmers and private schoolboys as the soccer excites those Ndebele not searching for food. Even now it is unusual for an Ndebele to marry a Shona, and in a recent instance twice the normal lobola was demanded by the girl's family before the wedding could take place.
Apart from suffering supporters hoping to see the world champions play upon an oval set near the middle of a  wonderful city fighting for survival against overwhelming odds, Zimbabweans would not be all that upset by the cancellation of the match. Another two points would leave their team needing only to beat Pakistan to advance into the next round. Since Pakistan are entirely capable of beating themselves, the cause is not without hope.  Moreover, it might rain again.
As far as the Australians are concerned, the game must proceed. It is important to keep playing cricket in a tournament stretched by a slow fixture list and the inclusion of several incompetent teams. Hereafter, weak sides must be eliminated more quickly and after fewer matches so that the competition can move along at pace.  Already, Ricky Ponting's team has spent many nights in hotels and staleness could become a problem.
The Kiwis have resorted to fisticuffs in night clubs by way of brightening their evenings. Somehow, the Australians must maintain their focus. As the poet said, the art is to begin afresh every morning, to remember the challenges, excitements and celebrations that come closer with every passing day.
Ponting must hope the match in Bulawayo is not spoilt by rain. The last thing he wants is to see his players go off the boil for then, bad habits creep in and the mischief begins. The Australians might also consider wearing red handkerchiefs  in Bulawayo as a tribute to their former captain, and in recognition of the suffering of people in the country areas of this devastated land.
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Peter Roebuck