'Qualification for the World Cup is the most important thing'
Let's be honest: if Zimbabwe fail to turn up at the next global cricket event, they will not be missed. They didn't make it to the main draw of either of the last two World T20s and it barely made the news. Instead, they are known for financial crisis, on and off the field, and largely considered a lost cause. Except to one man.
Faisal Hasnain, the former ICC chief financial officer, will begin work as Zimbabwe Cricket's new managing director on Monday, after being offered the job following Wilfred Mukondiwa's resignation. Hasnain's aim is to turn the country's cricketing fortunes around - a tough task, but one he understands the magnitude of better than most.
In his role at the ICC, Hasnain combed ZC's financials and has a clear understanding of their situation. He also sat with several of their executives and told ESPNcricinfo he can see a "sincere willingness to push towards change". So, where does one start?
At the very top, according to Hasnain. "I would like to open a line of communication with government to help Zimbabwe Cricket go to the next level," he said.
That's a brave suggestion considering that cricket probably lies quite low on State House's list of priorities, especially with elections due next year and a continuing cash shortage crippling the economy. But that may also be why Zimbabwe will look to attract attention to other areas.
"Cricket is one of the areas where Zimbabwe can get international publicity on the world stage," Hasnain said. "We don't see that with many other things in the country and if the government can back that, things could become easier for cricket to thrive."
Exactly what that means is not for Hasnain to spell out just yet, but it's the germ of an idea that could be crucial to his success in what is set to be a three-year term at the helm. Ultimately, though, Hasnain knows ZC cannot rely on handouts of any description to ensure their continued survival.
The organisation is dependent on two main sources for income - the ICC and India - and Hasnain wants that to change, even as revenue from the ICC increases. Under the new revenue-sharing model. Zimbabwe is earmarked to receive US$94 million in the 2016-2023 cycle, $19 million more than they were initially allocated, but Hasnain has cautioned against resting on that. "It will be critical for us to generate revenue outside of the ICC and India tours. We need to do a commercial audit of our assets and look at how to monetise them," he said.
Among those will be television rights deals, such as the current one with Ten Sports, but Hasnain also hopes to look at digital and social media as opportunities for the future. "Maybe at first it will only give us a trickle but eventually it will amount to something. And the only way that will happen is if results improve."
Zimbabwe have not won a series since October 2015, when they triumphed over Ireland, and have not won one against a fellow Full Member in four years. In that time they have also lost three ODI series to Afghanistan. The cumulative effect of that downturn in the rankings is the distinct possibility Zimbabwe will not appear at the next 50-over World Cup, and though they may not be missed, they will miss out on substantial financial gains and much-needed exposure.
Given the lack of cricket on Zimbabwe's calendar, global events are their only chance to play among some of the big boys, and they will provide them with the platform to obtain increased sponsorship. "Qualification for the 2019 World Cup is the most important thing on the table," Hasnain confirmed.
Zimbabwe have put in a bid to host the qualifiers for the event, which were originally scheduled for Bangladesh but will be moved in the likely event of Bangladesh's automatic entrance to the tournament. Though Zimbabwe's interest in staging the qualifiers came a little late, it was with support from Cricket South Africa, who Hasnain hopes to engage more in future and who have even offered some of their own venues in case of need. An ICC group is also set to travel to Zimbabwe to assess its readiness for what would be its first multi-team event since the 2003 World Cup, and will then make a decision between Africa and a venue in Europe such as Scotland or Ireland.
If the decision to host the qualifiers goes Zimbabwe's way, it should substantially increase their chances of making it through to the tournament proper. History shows Zimbabwe are far more likely to succeed at home than anywhere else - they have only won 33 out of 162 ODIs on the road, the last one in Guyana against West Indies in 2010.
Improving the away record is something Hasnain will leave to the cricketing brains in the organisation - he playfully recognised that coach Heath Streak "knows much more about cricket than I ever will" - but he is interested in improving Zimbabwe's overall profile in the game. "It's important that we have the right amount of cricket and a balance between formats," he said.
Test cricket is high on Hasnain's agenda and even though he admitted he cannot see Zimbabwe "regularly playing three-match series" at this stage, he is hopeful they will simply play more. If new Full Members are anointed, Hasnain believes that will increase Zimbabwe's chances of more Tests and more tours. And if that happens, Zimbabwe will need to mine its talent pool, which has appeared worryingly shallow in recent times.
The domestic game has shrunk from a franchise competition to a provincial set-up and the most recent season was marred by several delays over unpaid player wages. Hasnain has promised to "scrutinise the compensation structure" to make sure players are being paid what they are worth.
All those things, coming from someone with a solid foundation in finance and banking like Hasnain, who has worked at Chase Manhattan and Citibank, make for convincing reading. Other things aside, they would form the foundation of a functioning cricketing structure.
But in Zimbabwe the other things, like the politics, the economics and the hidden agendas, cannot be put aside. They are too overwhelming and they have suffocated everything, including sport, for the entire 2000s. So what makes Hasnain think he can make this work?
"Someone from the outside comes with no baggage and can look at things objectively and to a large extent at face value," he said. "My main job is to provide an environment for our athletes to perform on the domestic and international stage at an elite and optimum level."
Anyone who cares about cricket can only wish him the best of luck.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent