MOUNTAINEERS Team of the Week: Brent says Zimbabwe cricket stronger but a long way to go

As our Team of the Week feature continues we are in Zimbabwe to chat to The Mountaineers, one of five franchises competing in the three Zim domestic competitions. The Mountaineers play their homes matches at the Mutare Sports Club and represent the Manicaland and Mashonaland East area of the African country.

Gary Brent

Gary Brent

When asking the Mountaineers coach, Gary Brent, what he thinks to his side’s chances in the 2013/14 Zimbabwe season he can only be cautiously optimistic.

We covered the uncertainty surrounding Zimbabwe cricket’s finances and a domestic fixture list yet to fully materialise in the Brent ready to move fast as Zimbabwe season waits for green light part of his interview published earlier this week on World Cricket Badger.

“I’m looking forward to the season and I think we’ve got the makings of a wonderful squad”, Brent begins, but the obvious caveat follows. “Unfortunately I would love to be able to say that these are the guys we are going to have in our squad, but I just can’t offer anyone anything concrete as yet”.

“Unfortunately we’ve lost Greg Lamb”, Brent continues. “He’s since retired from cricket and will leave a big hole in our line-up, but there’s a lot of youngsters looking for some more cricket”.

It’s not just the squad that ended a successful 2012/13 season that Brent can’t fully commit to. A blossoming Mountaineers set-up is attractive to players succeeding elsewhere.

“There’s a whole lot of people asking the way things are going, but you just never know as we are not sure whether we can offer them anything better than they are getting at their franchises at the moment”, Brent explains. “At the end of the day they are the bread winners and it’s a business, so they are not going to play for you just for the fun of it”.

photoSo what of the standard of domestic cricket in Zimbabwe?

A few in England sniffed at Gary Ballance’s prolific run-scoring for the Mid West Rhinos, but he’s continued to score heavily in England too and is currently in Australia hoping to play some part for the three Lions in the forthcoming Ashes series.

In 17 first-class matches in Zimbabwe Ballance averaged 67.07 against 48.86 in 48 games, the vast majority of which were for Yorkshire. In List A cricket he averaged 60.80 for Mid West Rhinos against 57.22 for the Tykes. In T20 cricket his average is higher in Zimbabwe, despite winning a number of games for the White Rose county. The point being, there is not a lot in it.

“Oh listen, it’s not county cricket, but I think a lot of people come over here with the perception that it’s going to be very easy and they do get themselves unstuck a bit”, Brent says. “The conditions here are very different to most places”.

“You see when international sides come here, Zimbabwe competes very well and aren’t always the so called minnows of world cricket because we know the conditions very well.

“I don’t think the standard is terrible at all and I think it compares favourably to some of the other domestic competitions around the world at first-class level”.

P1010783The word on the street Huggy Bear is that the standard of domestic cricket in Zimbabwe is gradually getting stronger. The level is rising, the hopes are high and the talent is coming through.

Brent agrees. “I do think it’s getting stronger”, he says. ”Getting people like Grant Flower back has made a massive difference and I can’t say enough about the guy.

“Obviously Andrew ‘Bundu’ Waller coming back is a huge boost at international level and we’ve got Steve Mangongo at Mashonaland Eagles. These guys are all franchise coaches which I think helps.

“We’ve had Jason Gillespie, Allan Donald – we’ve had some really good coaches over the last few years and I think it’s paying dividends in the way the players are going about it”, he added. “There’s a lot more professionalism now and we’ve still got a long way to go but I think it’s a lot better”.

“We’ve never struggled to produce talent – it’s just what you do with that talent. That’s something we’ve struggled with in the past but slowly and surely we’re getting on the right track”.

Kyle Jarvis’s retirement from the Zimbabwe national side and subsequent move to the UK to earn a living is the latest in a line of talented players who have felt their future would be more productive elsewhere.

“It’s difficult with the political situation here in Zimbabwe”, Brent suggests. “For a guy like Jarv – he’s a good bowler and I think he will do very well for Lancashire, but you can’t give a guy like him the financial support that he’s probably looking for. He’s got to look at his future and you really can’t blame him”.

And Brent’s Mountaineers side, whatever the personnel, is building on a strong season last term.

As defending champions in the T20 arena and runners-up in the first-class game there will be high hopes when and if the season gets underway.

“We had a decent season”, Brent states. “We only came second in the Logan Cup because I made a pretty poor decision early in the season with a declaration.

“If we’d not declared we would probably have drawn that game and we did go for a win and we ended up losing it and we only came second by three points and that was unfortunate looking back.

“The four-day competition is the pinnacle of it all like in the UK the Championship is the one to win and our sights are firmly set on that”.

“Our fifty over form has been poor over the last three years”, he adds. “It’s something we are going to sit down before we start and have a long chat about it.

“I don’t know if our plans in that format have been the right ones. I think there’s a method in the one-day stuff we haven’t utilised in the past so and I think with two new white balls we might have to change a few things there”.

In tomorrow’s final feature on the Mountaineers we pick Gary Brent and Tino Mawoyo’s brains on who are the young stars to watch out for this season.

James Buttler

James has been working as a journalist and broadcaster in cricket since 2006 and was an avid fan for many years before that.
As the editor of World Cricket Badger he is intent on building the website to give quality coverage of the domestic game around the world.
He is also the presenter of the Cricket Badger Radio Show on Radio Yorkshire every Tuesday evening between 7-9pm UK time.
James was the full-time Media Manager at Yorkshire County Cricket Club between 2007 and 2010.
James is a published author, a writer/video contributor to many cricket publications and a complete cricket badger!

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