Updated: Feb 19
The Good Murungu covers Alan Butcher's 3 years in charge of the Zimbabwe national cricket team. For me, the book can be split into three very distinctive categories. You can then focus in on each one and keep them largely separate to the others.
1) Alan Butchers relationship with Zimbabwe the country and it's general population.
2) Alan Butchers relationship with the Zimbabwe players.
3) Alan Butchers relationship with the Zimbabwe administration/management/selectors.
It's an extremely interesting book for anyone that's interested in Zimbabwe cricket. It's clear that Butcher became very fond of the country, the people and the players he coached. It's just as clear that the set-up of Zimbabwe cricket is so ridiculously convoluted that it's easy to see why so many players turned their backs on the national set-up.
First let us just touch on Zimbabwe, a beautiful country with a rather troubled past. Butcher does well to avoid falling down the rabbit hole of Zimbabwe politics, instead, he chooses to focus on his time in the country as a coach and as a visitor. Whether it was the golden sunsets, the roaming wildlife, the beautiful scenery, the wine, the steak or the welcome, it's obvious that it left a lasting impression on Butcher and for all the right reasons.
He details what he found upon being appointed coach and what he tried to change during his three years. Most notably he found a team low on self-esteem, a team that had some technical deficiencies, but a hard-working unit that wanted to improve. He also found a team that was micro-managed, that was down-trodden, criticised at every opportunity, berated and belittled by the very people who were supposed to be championing their cause and paving the way for Zimbabwe's success. Through his 3 years, he managed to build a rapport with his team, an atmosphere of mutual respect, and it's very clear that Butcher cared for his players deeply.
The heart of the book, and what makes it so interesting to a cricket fan is the administration. Or should I say, Butchers experience with the Zimbabwe administration. While reading this book, I was pulling my hair out at the interference and complete mismanagement of what is supposed to be a professional organisation. We've all heard stories about why Zimbabwe cricket maybe a little worse off financially than they should be, but I really didn't know the extent to which the coaching staff were consistently undermined. Players not being paid, teams being picked without the coach or captains input, the captain being changed without consultancy, selectors and management openly berating players, accusing Butcher of racism over team selection, treating the players like children and forcing extra fitness training that was unwarranted and had a negative impact on their ability to perform. It's absolutely shocking! I have no idea how Butcher put up with it, but the man deserves a medal.
The Good Murungu offers a really fascinating insight into the problems Zimbabwe face when it comes to competing against the powerful nations. Butcher is largely credited with revitalising cricket in the country. Due to the financial limitations, it's not uncommon for Zimbabwe to lose players to either early retirement or cricket abroad. Andy Blignaut, Ian Nicholson, Sean Williams and Gary Ballance, Tom and Sam Curran to name just a handful. Butcher brought some reality to cricket in the country, at a time where the administration berated players for losing, saying the reason for their poor performance was either a bad attitude or a lack of fitness, which is so incredibly delusional, he focused on technical improvements, psychological and mental strength, which all resulted in positive forward steps and unlikely victories.
This really is a superb read. I loved it for its open honesty, not sugar coating the problems. I loved it for its descriptive summary of life in Zimbabwe which seems to consist of beautiful sunsets, incredible journeys, getting up close and personal with the wildlife and plenty of steaks and red wine. It showcased the positives and negatives of cricket in Zimbabwe, but most of all, it taught me never to get into a car with Alan Butcher.
You can get your copy from Pitch Publishing HERE