Zimbabwe’s descent from the top table of cricket in the first part of the last decade was one of cricket’s most saddening and depressing stories, but its comeback since then is surely one of the game’s most heartwarming. Whilst the country itself is still gripped by political instability, the cricket team is leading the way forward.
They made a successful return to Test cricket earlier this year and won their first match back against Bangladesh, and have since re-established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the international cricketing arena.
However, without its revamped domestic structure that came into place in 2009, none of this would’ve been possible, and it is to this that attention in Harare will focus tomorrow as the five franchises do battle in the Stanbic Bank T20. The tournament itself is short and sweet and will be completed within a fortnight - perhaps a lesson here for the ECB and BCCI? – and will welcome some of the best players from all over the world.
Chris Gayle is the star signing – he will play for the Matabeleland Tuskers – but several English county players are also involved. Rory Hamilton-Brown, Paul Horton, Tom Smith, Adam Wheater, Ned Eckersley, Ryan ten Doeschate, Phil Mustard, Riki Wessels, Andrew Hall, Phil Mustard and Peter Trego will all be taking one of the four overseas places in each franchise’s starting eleven. There they will rub shoulders with the established Zimbabwe players such as Brendan Taylor and Hamilton Masakadza, as well as mixing with some of the exciting young talent that is emerging from the country such as promising 18 year-old batsman Kevin Kasuza and fast bowlers Nathan Waller and Tendai Chatara.
Four of the teams are closely matched, with Southern Rocks the rank outsiders, but the Tuskers – led by Lancashire opener Paul Horton - are tipped as slight favourites at this early stage.
Matches begin at 0800GMT tomorrow when the Mid West Rhinos take on the Mountaineers, and Cricket World will have a review of the tournament when it finishes on 4th December.