Much to general surprise – not to mention irritation in some quarters – Zimbabwe have been in this country on a charm offensive. Ozias Bvute, managing director, and Alistair Campbell, chairman of selectors, held a series of private meetings to put the case that cricket in Zimbabwe is no longer the basket case that many perceived it to be.
Bvute, hitherto held up as the embodiment of all that is wrong, made himself available for any questions and happily repudiated any and all charges of bully-boy tactics. It is significant that Campbell, a ferocious critic of Zimbabwe Cricket before his return, supported him fully. They are clearly friends. Their purpose was to try to set the record straight. England have not played Zimbabwe in a bilateral match for six years, and there is no imminent likelihood of them doing so given the Coalition's hard-line stance. MCC last week cancelled a fact-finding mission on Government advice; Scotland have withdrawn from a tour. Bvute sought to put distance between cricket and government, a perceived link which has been a constant bugbear. Peter Chingoka, chairman of Zimbabwe Cricket, is still not welcome in the UK (or the EU), the reason that this year's ICC annual gathering had to be moved from London to Singapore. But 10 English professionals are taking part in the country's revitalised first-class competition this winter and they return to Test cricket next May after a self-imposed break of five years. The England and Wales Cricket Board were concerned Bvute's visit would divert attention from the NatWest Series (it might have deflected focus from corruption). Bvute, determined to be in it for the long haul, said: "Many inaccuracies and rumours have been written about me for many years, and continually perpetuated. I wanted to put my side of the story across. I fully understood the ECB's view that I might pose a 'distraction' if I was seen in the ground or held any 'formal' talks, so I was very happy to be a low-key, informal visitor."
Fletcher's no great shakes
An Old England backroom boys' reunion was staged in the pub next to Sophia Gardens, Y Mochyn Du, last week. There, having a beer before the T20 international were Dean Conway, former team physiotherapist, Mark Garraway, ex-analyst, and their coach Duncan Fletcher. Conway and Garraway were in splendid mood, Fletcher is still not shaking the hands of those who criticised him towards the end of his tenure. When he was batting consultant to South Africa last winter someone close to the team said: "He knows his stuff, Duncan, but you wouldn't want him round all the time or people would get depressed."
Hadlee's hardly recognised
A big story is brewing in New Zealand, if that is not a contradiction in terms. It is 25 years since Sir Richard Hadlee took 15 for 123 (including a first-innings 9 for 52) in Brisbane to propel the Kiwis to their first Test win in Australia. But not only is the great occasion not being marked at this year's New Zealand awards ceremony next week, Sir Richard has not been invited.
Plenty of Twenty20s
When England next play a Twenty20 international it will be against Australia in January. If England win they will have set a world record for eight consecutive T20 wins. Still, they might not swap the Ashes for it.