Bengaluru, April 23: Those were the years when dictator Robert Mugabe was still going strong in Zimbabwe. The country was under the scanner on the international stage because of its human rights records and by playing a co-host to the 2003 World Cup, the South African nation came under more focus.
In the months in the run-up to the WC, Zimbabwe’s right to play a host came under increasing questioning and England took a lead in the protest by deciding against travelling to Harare to play Heath Streak’s side mainly because of security concerns, letting go four crucial points that denied them a place in the Super Six stage eventually.
The authorities were worried that by allowing Zimbabwe to stage a few games in the WC, the protesters in the country were being given an opportunity to stage protests and capture more global attention and leading to more trouble in return. There was already an instance of a protestor losing life in Bulawayo while protesting outside a ODI game.
Flower, Olonga took on their country’s regime
But none was really prepared for what was coming. Shortly before Zimbabwe played their first match against debutants Namibia in Harare, two of their key players Andy Flower and Henry Olonga issued a statement to the media in which they announced their plan to wear black armbands to “mourn the death of democracy” in their own country.
The plan was executed when Flower walked out to bat in the match’s 22nd over wearing a black armband while Olonga, the pacer, was seen sporting his on the players’ balcony. It was a major victory as Zimbabwe’s repressive authorities could not do anything immediately given the international traction the protest had received by then.
British journalist Donald Trelford slammed the ICC and ECB over the issue in the Daily Telegraph and praised the two players who, according to him, “shine out like diamonds in a pile of mud”.
The duo was always aware of the consequences but unfazed as well. Olonga openly said people could take him out. Flower was though a tad luckier since attempts to drop him (Olonga had been dropped) saw his team-mates threatening to strike. Nevertheless, both players bowed out of international cricket at the end of the tournament in which Zimbabwe finished sixth.