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'To us, it feels like it's shrinking' – Sikandar Raza hints at ICC's failure to 'grow the game'
ICC Suspends Zimbabwe Cricket

'To us, it feels like it's shrinking' – Sikandar Raza hints at ICC's failure to 'grow the game'

The International Cricket Council's shock decision to suspend the membership of Zimbabwe Cricket with immediate effect has cast a cloud of uncertainty over the future careers of players associated with the Chevrons.

A somber mood has engulfed the Zimbabwean camp with team members still unsure about the duration of punishment and the calamity that has struck ZC.

Despair and sorrow aptly describe the emotions felt by the Zimbabwean players right now as they struggle to cope with this dismal news.

ICC's decision has also left Sikandar Raza in a state of disbelief as he tries to confront the severe ramifications of this judgment.

Faced by bleak prospects of participation in future ICC tournaments and disturbed by financial concerns, the wellbeing of Zimbabwean players now hinges upon plying their trade in T20 leagues around the globe.

While the proliferation of franchise-based competitions has opened avenues of opportunities for cricketers, some might even opt for the Kolpak route and bid farewell to international cricket.

Amidst this backdrop, Sikandar Raza has highlighted the chief problems bothering his team, who continue to be dismayed by what has transpired in recent days.

"I feel ICC just had enough of our troubles and used this opportunity"

"We are [still] owed two months salary and the employees of ZC and players also have their match fees pending. Now, we will not be paid for the next 3 months as ICC has stopped the funding. Before we even get to the first-class structure, how do the players survive is the real question," he told Cricingif.

ICC's drastic step has come at the cost of affecting the livelihoods of several individuals, beyond the scope of the cricket action on the field.

'I feel the ICC just had enough of our troubles'

Zimbabwe government's persistent interference in the functioning of the board has been cited as the principal reason dictating ICC's strict actions.

The parastatal body Sports and Recreation Committee (SRC) suspended the elected members of ZC in June and instead installed an interim setup - an action viewed by the ICC in violation of Article 2.4 (c) and (d) of its constitution.

The failure to conduct transparent elections and subsequently disrespecting the mandate has been perceived by the ICC as direct government intervention but Sikandar insists the SRC is independent of the ruling regime.

"I still believe SRC is not government interference. It's an independent body that looks after all sports in the country."

Not shy of admitting the practice of political discord influencing appointments in other cricket boards, Sikandar felt the ICC were specifically targetting ZC after having been fed up of their wretched track record.

"It's not a secret that other boards have been interfered by the government in the past and I feel ICC just had enough of our troubles and used this opportunity [to punish the board]," Sikandar claimed.

Last year, Zimbabwe failed to reach the finals of the World Cup Qualifier, losing out a berth in the 2019 World Cup in England and Wales following a defeat to UAE.

Despite the despondent exit from the tournament, Sikandar was honoured for his consistent performances during the competition as he received the player of the series award.

"ICC's motto is to grow the game and I will say again: To us, it feels like it's shrinking."

While accepting the prize for his achievements, the 33-year-old had lashed out at the apex cricket body for its decision to restrict the number of World Cup participants.

Asked if the latest ICC decision on ZC's suspension depicts this mindset, Sikandar declared it seemed unfair and symbolized their reluctance in expanding the game.

"I will let the readers decide on that. ICC's motto is to grow the game and I will say again: To us, it feels like it's shrinking."

'Encouraging response from cricketers around the world'

The verdict on ZC's membership has been met with a resounding call of support from the cricket fraternity who have proceeded to empathize with the African nation's players.

Veteran Indian spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, in particular, had his say on the dire situation after reading Sikandar's emotional outburst on Twitter.

Ashwin termed the crisis "heartbreaking" and hoped for a quick resolution to the dispute, backing his Zimbabwean counterparts to come out strong in these troubling times.

Sikandar acknowledged Ashwin's response and noted this paved the way for reinforcing the narrative surrounding the grim state of Zimbabwe cricket.

"It was very encouraging to see Ashwin's tweet. We all have received so many messages from cricketers all around the world supporting us and showing how pathetic this decision has been," he said.

The current harrowing climate will worsen for Zimbabwe as they are barred from participating in the T20 World Cup Qualifier later this year and will not be traveling to Bangladesh for the tri-series involving Afghanistan.

In accordance with the ICC ruling, ZC's progress would be closely assessed over the next three months forming a topic of importance in the subsequent meeting in October.

Till then, dark clouds continue to hover over the careers of the Zimbabwean cricketers as they are left stranded clutching on the straws of stability.

Intimating the options available to the Zimbabwean players, Sikandar suggests the team would have a better chance of convincing the ICC about resuming international cricket duties if they are allowed to communicate with them directly but conceded the coming months would be challenging.

"We would love to go to ICC and present our case and I am sure that would make a huge difference but as it stands, the next 5 months for all of us are going to be very difficult," he concluded.