Tomorrow (Saturday 13th) sees the start of Zimbabwe’s domestic Twenty20 tournament, and in a country where cricket has had more than its fair share of problems over the past few years it’s a bright spot in the schedule that brings out both the crowds – last year’s final drew a sell-out crowd to Harare Sports Club, unheard of for a domestic match and capacity at the ground has been significantly increased for this year – and an impressive roster of overseas players, both past and present. This year will see Brian Lara, Grant Flower and Ryan Sidebottom turning out – all names that, for different reasons, you maybe wouldn’t have expected to see in Zimbabwean cricket not too long ago. It’s also the only Zimbabwe domestic tournament to get international TV coverage, via Supersport.
Mutare-based Mountaineers are the reigning champions, and under new coach Allan Donald they’ve had a good season so far this year, lying second in both the Logan Cup first-class and MetBank one-day tournaments. The side lost a few key players in the off-season, including former national captain Tatenda Taibu, but the arrival of others such as Lance Klusener and troubled bad-boy Mark Vermeulen, and the presence of promising bowlers such as Shingi Masakadza and Tinashe Panyangara, means their side is well-balanced – never a side to be underestimated.
Bulawayo side Matabeleland Tuskers were the big domestic disappointments last season – with possibly the strongest squad on paper, they failed to perform in every tournament. This season, a few significant changes were made, including bringing in David Houghton as coach, and the side has prospered as a result – Tuskers are the in-form team so far the season, and with potential big-hitter Charles Coventry and bowling sensation Keegan Meth in their lineup there’s every chance they’ll dominate the T20 as well. Meth in particular is one to watch, with many Zimbabwe fans considering him long overdue a call up to the national side.
If Tuskers have completed a remarkable turnaround since last season, Mashonaland Eagles, who have home-field advantage in the T20, have been going the other way. Despite having more than a few big names of their own on the roster they’ve been unable to catch any breaks this year and have been hugely disappointing on the field. Grant Flower’s recent return to playing status – he’s their assistant coach – and the return from compassionate leave of top bowler Ray Price may be just what they need to turn the corner, but despite being an Eagles supporter myself I’m not holding my breath.
MidWest Rhinos, from the Midlands city of Kwekwe, are the little team that could of Zimbabwe cricket. The midlands aren’t exactly a cricketing hotspot, but the Rhinos sport Zimbabwe batting superstar Brendan Taylor, key bowler Graeme Cremer and ZC Batsman of the Year Vusi Sibanda in their side, along with a number of potential future stars, and can always be counted on to put in a decent performance. Sibanda’s form has been very poor this year, though, and Rhinos have seemed to be missing the killer instinct in some of their matches this season, and that leaves a question mark over just how well they’ll be able to do in the T20.
Finally, we come to the Southern Rocks, who hail from Masvingo and are usually considered the weakest of the five domestic franchises – although that perception may not be entirely fair, as especially on the batting side they’re no slouches – Tatenda Taibu, Kenyan star Steve Tikolo and younger Ervine brother Craig all feature. The side was also the one that managed to snag the signature of West Indies great Brian Lara, which gives them some real star presence – although with Lara not having played for a while and not having done much in his last T20 outing (for the ‘rebel’ ICL), it remains to be seen just how much of an impact he’ll have on the side. Rocks also lack a decent bowling attack, which has already cost them several matches in other competitions this season – although that’s where the signing of Ryan Sidebottom comes in. Lara, and sibling rivalry between Craig Ervine and his older brother Sean (who plays for Mountaineers) should ensure that Rocks get some time in the limelight, but I can’t see that translating into too many points on the tournament table.
So that’s a brief roundup of our competitors. While it’s hardly the IPL, there’s plenty of talent on show in the tournament this year, both local and imported, and that in itself should make for an entertaining competition. If I were to put a few dollars down on the results, I’d bet on a Tuskers v Mountaineers final, with Mountaineers to win – although since Twenty20 is a great leveller, I have no doubt that there’ll be a few surprises thrown along the way. Game on.
Article by Bryan Morton