Preview: Zimbabwe’s shoestring season gets underway at last

The Zimbabwe cricket season finally hits the starting blocks on Friday without a sponsor for any of the three competitions. There will be few overseas stars and a reliance on youngsters to bolster the ranks. For the long-term good of the nation’s cricket it is to be hoped this is a case of short-term pain.

cricketballs (1)The long-term gain may well manifest itself in new blood gaining experience after Zimbabwe Cricket delayed the start of the season until 7 December as they frantically attempting to secure commercial backing. Previous backers have struggled financially and no new sponsors have been forthcoming. Money secured hosting international matches, particularly against India, allied with an International Cricket Council grant, means the domestic structure survives, but only just.

The season starts with the 50-over and first-class competitions which will be played simultaneously. To save money, a team will travel to the opponents’ venue and play them in both a one-day game and a four-day match. Such a system cuts down travel costs. All teams play each other twice in each competition.

The five franchises battle on with reduced budgets, but have been recruiting their squads. It is unlikely overseas players can be afforded and a number of coaches have committed themselves to furthering their youth development.

Manicaland Mountaineers

P1010783When World Cricket Badger spoke to coach Gary Brent a month ago he explained the difficulty of planning for a season where dates and budgets were unkown. He has since moved quickly to snap up Forster Mutizwa (wicketkeeper) and Innocent Chinyoka (pace bowler) from Mashonaland Eagles to add depth to the Mountaineers’ squad.

Mutizwa, 28, has played 58 first-class matches scoring 10 centuries and 15 fifties. He has also played 17 One-Day Internationals and one Test for Zimbabwe. 31-year-old Chinyoka has taken 89 wickets from 43 matches since making his first-class debut in 2002.

“These are massive signings as Forster will really strengthen the batting and Innocent will be equally potent on the bowling front”, Brent said. “I’m very happy with the squad we have.”

Mashonaland Eagles 

photo-1The Eagles have bagged former Zimbabwe international Mark Vermeulen as a replacement for retiring captain Stuart Matsikenyeri. Paceman Brian Vitori has also signed in order to make studying in Harare easier, while Sikander Raza Butt has finally committed to the club.

“After the sudden retirement of our captain we are glad that we have signed Mark, who will stabilise the middle-order batting department”, Eagles coach Steve Mangongo explained. “We also have a number of junior players that we have elevated into the team and hopefully it will be a good season for us.”

On their way out are the trio of Chamu Chibhabha and Innocent Chinyoka who have signed for Mountaineers and seasoned veteran Foster Mutizwa who is rumoured to be Tuskers-bound.

Mid West Rhinos

Grant Flower at the Paul Grayson Benefit Match...

Grant Flower (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Investing in the youth is the way forward for Mid West Rhinos. Chief executive Kenyon Ziehl is introducing new blood. Riki Wessels may return briefly as an overseas player, but have promoted 18-year-old Carl Mumba and Mkhululi Nyathi to their playing squad.

Rhinos are hopeful they can tempt Kudakwashe Munyede (21) from Mashonaland Eagles while wicketkeeper Nyasha Mayavo (21) is set to gain more first team exposure.

Mark Mbofana has signed from the Eagles as the Rhinos have retained the majority of last season’s playing squad. Experienced skipper Brendan Taylor and top order batsman Vusi Sibanda are key as Rhinos throw inexperience in around them.

Grant Flower continues as head coach and faces a tough season with the loss of Graeme Cremer (retired) and uncertainty over fast bowlers Edward Rainsford and Richard Muzhange availability on full-time basis.

“It’s nice to see the youngsters coming through,” said Ziehl. “They have played for the Zimbabwe Under-19 team and they need to be exposed to first class cricket in order for them to develop quickly. Look at the other guys like Richard Muzhange and Neville Madziva who came through the structures – these guys are doing okay and we hope to see more of that.

“We also have some youngsters coming from the local community and we aim to give them the platform to play. Rhinos has a thrust for development as well,” said Ziehl. “We are targeting some silverware in the cabinet and hopefully we will achieve that. It’s disappointing that we always play well and on most occasions come close to the title but at the end miss it”.

Matabeleland Tuskers

Cricket-General-GettyTuskers’ have been hit hard by players leaving the franchise and face a testing season. Many first team players have left and some refuse to commit. Christopher Mpofu has been offered a play-as-you-earn contract, while the likes of Charles Coventry, Keegan Meth, Craig Ervine and Glen Querl have left.

In addition, captain Gavin Ewing has relinquished the captaincy and will play only one-day matches. The team that took the Tuskers to three championship successes has been pulled apart.

Southern Rocks

Cricket-Balls-SmallDespite the losses of Brian Vitori (to Mashonaland Eagles) and Tawanda Mupariwa (Matabeleland Tuskers), Southern Rocks coach Shepherd Makanura, who has taken over from Dave Houghton, is optimistic.

Zimbabwe wicketkeeper Richmond Mutumbami turned down an offer to join Matabeleland Tuskers which is a major boost.

“We got a full squad last Tuesday and we have just had a week’s training but the guys are looking sharp”, said Makanura. “There are a number of youngsters who I think can put up a good fight throughout the season. Our target is to fight for at least one trophy and end the season with something”.

The Rocks also have Matthew Pardoe, and English player who plays County Cricket for Worcestershire. Bernard Mlambo has been signed from the Mountaineers and Prince Masvaure will spearhead their batting.

Trevor Garwe, Roy Kaia and Hillary Matanga are some of the players that they retained for the 2013/14 season with Cuthbert Misoko and Luke Jongwe – tipped for the national Under-19 squad – also part of the players to watch out for.

His Matabeleland Tuskers counterpart Wayne James will also be in charge of his first competitive game for the Bulawayo club since taking over from Heath Streak who turned down an offer to renew his contract.

“Everyone is working hard and we should be naming our squad on Thursday before we travel on Friday. Everyone is looking forward to the game and what we want is to play good cricket and get a positive result,” said James.

Matabeleland Tuskers will pin their hopes on captain Sean Williams, up-and-coming opening batsman Brian Chari, veteran spinner John Nyumbu, allrounder Keith Dabengwa, pace bowler Christopher Mpofu who is fighting for a return to the national team set up, Mupariwa and Bradley Staddon.

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