Well, this is my latest effort. 1,470 words.. essay-length!
May 1999 saw Zimbabwean Cricket at its peak, with Neil Johnson, Heath Streak, Andy Flower and Murray Goodwin leading their side to fifth place in the World Cup, having only gained Test status seven years previously. They had emerged from the shadows of their neighbours to the South, and were no longer treated with disdain by the other Test nations.
May 2004 saw Zimbabwean Cricket as a standing joke as fifteen rebel players joined the increasingly long list of exiles, alienated by increasingly ill-founded government interference and unprincipled inaction from other nations.
On a day where a Zimbabwean "representative" side containing just 53 caps - less than five of the opposing Sri Lankan players - were sent down the path pf another heavy defeat, the handling of the whole issue by all parties must be questioned.
The Zimbabwe Cricket Union and Zanu-PF
Never has the word "apolitical" been so badly misused. In fact, it's not misuse, it's a bare-faced lie. The ZCU is in the pocket of Ozias Bvute, who is Robert Mugabe's own personal finger-puppet. Selection has been increasingly racialised since World Cup 1999, as Zanu-PF took on a growing level of control over all activity in the country.
Should one believe the propaganda, Zanu-PF are merely fighting the fight of the underprivileged black community, disenfranchised by the years of white colonialism. One would then completely overlook the fact that the leader of the opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai, and Henry Olonga - he of the black-armband protest - are also black. Now don't get me wrong here - I'm a socialist and in favour of land redistribution, but I wasn't under the impression that beatings and killings were the best way of going about these things.
The race cards, played so often by this corrupt and failing administration, are running out. Inflation is running at 580%. Forty-five schools were closed this week in the run-up to exams for attempting to raise fees by 50%, and "keep the blacks out". That inflation means that textbooks costing $10 one year would cost $68 the next - now do we see why increases are needed? Or how about looking to blame yourselves for gross economic mismanagement that would make a 14-year-old Business Studies student cringe?
The Zimbabwean dollar has been devalued eight-fold in recent months - one US dollar is now equivalent to Z$5,000 - in a vain effort to save the collapsing export sectors of the economy, but whilst the government spending plans continue to neglect economic well being for the sake of weapons and civil wars fought far outside the borders, meltdown will continue.
The Rebel Players
What else can one do? You put your life into playing sport for your country - and are then not selected because you don't have enough melanin in your skin. Imagine the outcry if England based a selection decision on race above anything else. Zimbabwean sides have been becoming more and more of a misrepresentative embarrassment to their country for the last few years, with the players hapless passengers on Mad Bob's train ride towards the buffers.
The actions of the Rebel Fifteen, following on from Andy Flower and Henry Olonga's stand in the World Cup, are wholly understandable. Passengers do not stand by and watch train wrecks take place - action is taken and they try to arrest the developments. It's not even as if they've made no efforts to negotiate - but the ZanuPF-CU are too far removed from the real word to accept than any other version of events could have the slightest merit. Surely the rebels' efforts cannot be criticised, unless you are...
The International Cricket Council
Some situations call for leadership, backbone and decision-making; three quantities that the ICC is world famous for lacking. Their latest statement would be an appalling shock were it not for the fact that the council has the collective spine of a Great Crested Newt - and their actions in sniveling compliance with ZCU propaganda come as nothing but another demoralising step towards an uncertain future for our game.
For the benefit of Ehsan Mani, and the other ICC mandarins whose decision-making processes are solely influenced by the lure of money, I'll remind you all of the events at the Harare Sports Club on April 25, 2004. This was the day that extras - with 7 - jointly top-scored for Zimbabwe as three Sri Lankan bowlers shot them out for a pathetic 35 runs, as politics took an unassailable series lead over the good of the game.
Let me also remind you of your duties, as set out on your website, as your mission statement. "As the international governing body for cricket, the International Cricket Council will lead by promoting the game as a global sport, protecting the spirit of cricket and optimising commercial opportunities for the benefit of the game."
There are THREE objectives there, not just the last one. Fines and bans for cancellation of tours to a corrupt and racist country have the exact opposite effect on your first two aims. The spirit of cricket, however many times you prosecute players for clapping their hands at an opponent as a violation of the code-of-conduct, has long since been ignored in the name of post-colonial revenge by Mugabe and his cronies.
The Governments of England and Australia
Jack Straw, sport in this country may not be state-run - and for that I am both proud and thankful - but there is nothing stopping a trade embargo - or would that intrude on the precious arms deals? It is hypocritical in the extreme to preach one viewpoint and practice the opposite. How about at least underwriting the lost revenue the ECB would suffer should they pull out?
The England and Wales Cricket Board
Without question, the ECB - and other touring boards - are between a boulder and a brick wall when it comes to their decision making on touring. Should moral concerns override all, the swingeing financial penalties most likely imposed by the ICC would critically wound the future of cricket in the country, and touring under what is effectively financial blackmail would be seized upon by critics of the Mugabe regime. A unenviable position - but at least, come clean with the situation you're in. The handling of the Zimbabwe issue in the World Cup and the following tour of England was on the incompetent side of useless.
Congratulations - at least somebody has the courage of their convictions to stand up and refuse to be associated with this despotic tyranny. You're a fine example to follow and I fervently hope that enough players follow your lead for ICC action to become unavoidable.
In the time between starting this article and its conclusion, Zimbabwe have capitulated once again - to their heaviest defeat in their history - against a Sri Lankan side not famed for their ability when the pitches do not turn. What will happen when the Australians come to town, I dread to think. Brian Lara's record is under grave threat and the image of International Cricket is about to take a rapid turning onto an exceptionally steep descent.
Whether an escape road can be found or not will depend totally upon whether the International Cricket Council has either the balls or the morality to take a stand. Mugabe, Bvute, their fellow bigots and their disgusting racist selection and development policies have no place in the International arena. You have but one option to maintain dignity - and that is the outright ban. Forget the lost TV revenue, cricket is the one aspect of Zimbabwean society on the brink of normality - once this veneer is stripped away, the final implosion of the Zanu-PF is inevitable as their isolation from the real world grows.
The ECB and Cricket Australia - should the ICC maintain their current compliance with the regime - have the chance to keep their dignity at least slightly intact, should they make it clear that they are solely touring due their underlying commitment to grass-roots development and the catastrophic knock-on effects that a withdrawal, financial penalty and/or ban would have.
The players, like MacGill, have the chance to keep the issue at the forefront of World Cricket's field of vision, should enough of them possess the guts to stand up for morality.
It's time for the final curtain to fall on Mugabe's tormented, twisted and tortured dominion once and for all. Racist, bigoted and increasingly insane, its continued bastardised presence on the world scene benefits no-one but the power brokers of Zanu-PF, and cricket's continued benign acceptance of the regime and all that it stands for does equally little for the game.
It's time to act. It's time to follow the shining path blazed by Andy Flower and Henry Olonga. It's time for the end.