ZIMBABWE Cricket is poised for its busiest domestic season ever.
The National League is being contested for by 14 sides which are split into two groups of seven. A total of 45 matches will be played at different venues across th
e country. The completion of the first round of provincial league matches a fortnight ago set the tone for the National League.
The second round of its matches is on this weekend.
New grounds will continue to be broken, literally, as the country’s previously overlooked administrative provinces of Mashonaland Central, East and West and Matabeleland North and South play host to matches of this magnitude for the first time in their history. For the first time, cricket is being played on a truly national level in the country.
These recently affiliated provinces, plus Manicaland, Masvingo and the Midlands, will provide one side each in the league. Giants Harare and Bulawayo Metropolitan Provinces are contributing four and two sides, respectively.
While spreading the game to a broader playing base is undoubtedly good for the growth of the game, safeguarding high playing standards in the process is a challenge.
ZC operations manager Chris Chiketa is keen to see the new-look National League succeed.
“What we are hoping for is to have as many of the quality players as possible to play (in the national league),” he said.
To make that happen, the qualified clubs have been allowed to add to their squads a maximum of three players drawn from those that did not make it into the National League.
“It will obviously strengthen the clubs,” Chiketa predicted. “This is a club competition, and clubs decide who they want to play for them. Our involvement in the selection of domestic cricket sides is only at Logan Cup level when we come in to ensure that the teams meet other on a strength-for-strength basis.”
National team players have had a taste of the league cricket before embarking on a five-match one-day international tour to Bangladesh this month. The Bangladesh tour is Zimbabwe’s first engagement after the ICC Champions Trophy in India recently where Zimbabwe lost to the West Indies, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the qualifying stage for the main event.
In February next year, the one-day inter-provincial competition will take centre stage with the 10 provinces paired into Central Provinces, Eastern Provinces, Northern Provinces, Southern Provinces and Western Provinces.
Kenya have also been invited to play on the domestic scene.
“We have invited Kenya to play in what used to be the Faithwear One-Day Series,” said Chiketa. “We are hoping to bring all the teams together at one venue over nine days for the tournament.”
In December, the juniors and women will also be on the road. Three national youth sides, the Under-13s, Under-16s and Under-19s, are preparing for their yearly tour to South Africa in December. The sides have already been finalised following trials at Prince Edward School last month. — Own Correspondent.