Archaic scoreboard adds charm to Zimbabwe's qualification

Under the gaze of an enormous, old-fashioned manual scoreboard, Zimbabwe came up with all the right numbers last weekend as they qualified for cricket's Twenty20 World Cup for the first time since 2016.

Craig Ervine's team clinched their ticket to Australia in October when they beat Papua New Guinea in their semi-final last Friday.

They then iced the cake with a 37-run win over the Netherlands at Bulawayo's Queens Sports Club. It was a throwback to another age when cricket did not rely heavily on the bells and whistles of modern technology.

Established in 1890 when Zimbabwe was still the British colony of Rhodesia, the ground was of course named after Queen Victoria. It became a regular venue for many touring sides and hosted its first Test match in 1994.

In spite of the colourful clothes and frenetic pace of a T20 match, there is still an old-world charm about Queens.

The stately pavilion stands proud and the ground is ringed by trees that create a panoramic umbrella for spectators sitting on the grass, making it a picturesque venue.

But one key feature stands out: the scoreboard dating back to the 20th century or earlier. A team of shadowy figures ghost their way inside the great box, all black and yellow, manually changing names and numbers.

Adding up scores on the aged scoreboard, energetic young men, including aspiring cricketers and passionate fans, operate seamlessly in coordination with scorers waving papers from behind a glass screen in the media box some 200m away on the other side of the ground.

Hand gestures are sometimes overridden by radio communication to verify and clarify figures.

Most international scoreboards around the world are now digital but the old-school scoreboard at Queen's adds to the atmosphere, occasionally churning out unintended humour for fans, with reverse or misspelt names and upside-down numbers - just some of the errors associated with manual operations at fast turnaround.

More than a dozen youngsters physically swap in scores, led by a seasoned calligraphic artist who hand-paints player names as the game progresses.

"It has become much better now with the radios, we can quickly rectify errors," said scorer Donald Nyoni.

"It is key to keep up with scores accurately. The unfortunate part is that the old board has no provision for new rules on umpiring decisions."

This old scoring system calls for "sober habits" but provides employment to youths who risk being lost in a country plagued by an upsurge in drug abuse and high unemployment.

They each earn US$10 per day for operating the scoreboard, keeping their focus on the action in the middle and in the scorers' box opposite.

Even checking phones can be distracting and "cause a mess of the statistics", said Admire Mupembe, who is in his early 20s, while shuffling through a wad of number plates.

Queens is not alone in its manual board as India still has several and there's one at the new 35,000-seater Pallekele ground in Sri Lanka. They all lend charm to proceedings.

What the spectators miss out on is the absence of replays and added features such as umpiring decisions. But the spectators at Queens are not overly concerned as Zimbabwe march through to the T20 World Cup, a boost for a cricket nation that has been starved of recent glories.

Singapore finished last out of the eight teams in the T20 World Cup qualifiers in Zimbabwe. They were comprehensively beaten in all the five matches they played.



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