Roger Alton Roger Alton

Club cricketers: Zimbabwe needs you

I understand why they do. But the game at the local level here needs them – and the welcome is amazing

Make sure you tell everybody about Zimbabwe,’ said the lady at our block of flats in suburban Harare as we set off on the long journey to the Eastern Highlands and another match, this time at Mutare. We are a ramshackle and elderly cricket team, though we have pulled in a couple of youthful ringers, one an Oxford Blue and another a former Test-match 12th man.

But it is a long time since a real England team toured this country — a few ODIs in 2004 I think. Gordon Brown blocked a tour of England by Zim in 2008, and I am told that David Cameron personally made sure that no England side came here. Understandably, perhaps, Cameron felt that a tour would offer some endorsement to Robert Mugabe, though he had no such reservations about doing deals with Saudi Arabia or China.

Back in Mutare, a cheetah’s leap away from the Mozambique border, we play a brisk T20 game at one of the most beautiful grounds I have seen. We are sharing turf where Sir Ian Botham and Basil D’Oliveira once walked (and no doubt drank too). In the corner families are having a barbecue, the parents of the England Test cricketer Gary Ballance among them. Against us are a scratch side of farmers, doctors and business guys— ‘We haven’t played for five years so we had to dig our kit out from the back of the loft.’ But there are a couple of former Zim internationals — ‘Oh just a few ODIs,’ they say — and we duly rip defeat from the jaws of victory.

This is a close-knit cricketing world — Graeme Hick’s mum and dad came to see our match at the Harare Club, and everyone talks in awe of players like Ballance and Surrey’s brilliant Curran boys.

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