Harare - For a team that spent the last two years battling with its board over wages and contract issues, Zimbabwe's chaotic departure for the Cricket World Cup was fitting.
The players almost missed their flight because of arguments over their payments for the tournament. Local media reported the players themselves differed this time on the allocation of the $650 000 to be shared by the 15-man squad.
Zimbabwe's cricket team is used to being overshadowed by off-field issues. It all means that a country once capable of pulling off surprise results at the World Cup - and which reached the Super Six stage in 1999 and 2003 - appears set to have little impact on the upcoming showpiece in Australia and New Zealand.
Zimbabwe's last limited-overs international series before the World Cup, a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of fellow struggler Bangladesh, indicates the desperate time the team may face in the tournament.
As for the other troubles, a proposed player payment plan would see four senior players - captain Elton Chigumbura, Brendan Taylor, Hamilton Masakadza and Prosper Utseya - receive an appearance fee of around $70 000 each, with the rest of the squad getting half of that. The group eventually flew out to New Zealand without signing contracts, and further negotiations were expected.
Before the team's departure, the arrival of new coach Dav Whatmore delivered a ray of hope.
Whatmore, the Australian who helped mastermind Sri Lanka's run to the 1996 World Cup title, was appointed in December following the firing of Stephen Mangongo, who had been at the helm for just seven months.
"What I have learnt from them so far is that they are tired of losing and they want to change that, to start winning important matches," Whatmore said. "They are focused on achieving that at the World Cup, and I am sure they will produce some good performances. It is powerful motivation that they want to produce results that they can be proud of."
Whatmore said he was targeting a quarterfinals place, a steep challenge with Zimbabwe up against defending champion India, South Africa, Pakistan and West Indies in the pool stage. The Zimbabweans may even be tested by the two non-Test teams in Pool B, Ireland and United Arab Emirates.
Zimbabwe's best World Cup moments were in 1999, when it upset both India and South Africa to advance to the second round for the first time, and as tournament co-host in 2003.
However, since then much has happened to Zimbabwe cricket - not much of it good.
With 169 ODIs under his belt, all-rounder and skipper Chigumbura is the most experienced player in the squad, with Test captain and batsman Taylor next on 161 caps. The other key player for Zimbabwe is 31-year-old opening batsman Hamilton Masakadza, who will be playing in his first World Cup despite making his ODI debut in 2001.
Utseya, the team's leading spinner, will go to the World Cup despite not being allowed to bowl his offspinners. The ICC ruled he can bowl only medium pacers because of an illegal action.