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Zimbabwe braces for thrilling cricket

Enock Muchinjo

ZIMBABWE cricket is on the verge of an entertaining, albeit hectic, period. Cricket fans are in for a treat as Zimbabwe will host New Zealand in two Test matches next month, one at the Harare

Sports Club and the other at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo, and then play India in another two Test matches in September, again in Harare and Bulawayo.

In between, the three countries will participate in a six-match one-day international triangular tournament, shuttling between the capital and the ceremonial City of Kings, that will end with match seven – the final – in Harare on September 6.

In addition to their one-day commitments, India will play two Test matches against Zimbabwe. Cricket fans are in for a treat, as the Indian Tests will occur over a two-month period during which the two Tests against New Zealand and the ODI series will be played.

The other bit of good news that came from Zimbabwe Cricket was that the South African national team is still committed to touring Zimbabwe after a series initially scheduled for later this month had been put on hold. The two sides were supposed to meet in three ODIs – a weekend double-header on July 30 and 31, and a third match on September 3. All matches to be held at Harare Sports Club.

Zimbabwe Cricket officials and their South African counterparts are still working on the new dates for the tour.

This fixture between Zimbabwe and South Africa is further confirmation of the strong cricket relationships between the neighbouring Test nations.

Zimbabwe and South Africa have close cricket ties dating back to the pre-Independence era when the Rhodesian team played in domestic competitions in South Africa. These close ties continued after Independence when the Zimbabwe Board XI played in the South African Bowls Competition, which they won in 1998.

The affiliation between the two countries helped Zimbabwean cricket a lot, as players on the fringes of national team selection were exposed to the strong domestic competition in South Africa, which meant the players were better prepared for international cricket when selectors gave them the nod. South African competition was one of the reasons why Zimbabwe had a team that competed favourably with the best in the world when the country qualified for the Super Six stage of the 1999 World Cup in England.

It is gratifying to note that South Africa still places significance in engaging Zimbabwe in cricket competition. Periodic matches between Zimbabwean and South African sides both at national and reserve side level will help raise the standards of Zimbabwean cricket.

South Africa are expected to name a strong side for their ODI tour of Zimbabwe, something that would have helped the local national selection panel to accurately gauge the depth and strength of their resources ahead of the showdown with New Zealand and India had the Proteas tour not been put on hold until probably September. A good outing against Graeme Smith’s Proteas will give the Zimbabwean players a lot of self-belief going into the New Zealand and then India matches.

Even the touring teams would have come with a bit of respect for the Zimbabwe team whose esteem was somewhat battered in the last season when Bangladesh pounced on the young and inexperienced side for their first Test match and series win earlier this year.

New Zealand have already announced a full-strength side for their tour, an indication that they are not taking any chances against a Zimbabwe outfit that has given them stiff competition since they were awarded Test status in 1992. A series between these two nations always captures the attention of the cricket world. Despite the difference in ranking between Zimbabwe and New Zealand, there does not seem to be much of a difference in depth and player quality every time the sides meet.

Experience comes with engagement. For the Zimbabwe team to improve, the side requires more cricket and must play the top teams in the world more often. Herein lies the importance of the forthcoming Test matches against India.

In terms of gaining experience, there is no substitute for playing against the best in the world and India are as good as they come. Test matches between Zimbabwe and India have produced thrilling action in the past. There is every reason to believe that the two matches in September will be no less so.

India has not yet announced the composition of its touring delegation, but they should also be at full strength. Whenever they take to the field, India do not leave the onlooker in any doubt as to their stature in world cricket. They are a challenging Test side to play against because they put you to the test in all departments.

In bowling, India have managed to sharpen their seam attack with bowlers like Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, while the “turbinator”, Harbhajan Singh, is an eminent spin threat. Their batting has more potency, though, as men like the phenomenon, Sachin Tendulkar, captain Saurav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid can hit to threads even the best of the world’s bowling attacks.

When all is said and done, Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans should brace up for two months of top class cricket at home.

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