Zimbabwe will go into 2013 with renewed and qualified optimism after some green shoots started to emerge towards the end of 2012.
Report by Kevin Mapasure
IndependentSport explores some reasons why 2013 could be a better sporting year for Zimbabwe in some disciplines.
Cricket’s fixtures congestion
After a barren year in which the national team spent many months idle, they face a calendar packed with six confirmed Tests which could increase to eight if dates with Pakistan can be agreed.
The national team kicks off the New Year with next month’s tour of the West Indies where they have two Tests, three one-day internationals and two Twenty20s scheduled.
It would be another big test for Brendan Taylor’s men after showing a worrying deficiency when playing away from home during which they lost all matches in New Zealand at the start of 2012.
After the West Indies tour, Zimbabwe’s next international assignment is a home series against Bangladesh in two Tests and ODIs in April.
Before that, the domestic T-20 championship erupts into action in March to warm cricket faithfuls up for what should be a cracking series against the Bangladesh Tigers who seek revenge after they were bruised and battered in their previous visit in 2011.
An array of international stars is expected for the domestic T-20 series but the foreign contingent is likely to be dominated by Bangladesh players.
Sri Lanka is expected towards the end of the year but before that, India would visit Zimbabwe in June for three ODIs.
If the Pakistan tour can be fitted in, then cricket fans would have the best treat in many years.
However, it also presents a challenge to the team which is expected to have a new coach by then as current coach Alan Butcher reaches the end of his tenure at the end of April.
After a disappointing 2012, Zimbabwe has a chance to demonstrate what it is capable of as most matches are at home.
Picking up the pieces with Pagels
Zimbabwe’s 2014 Fifa World Cup qualification is struggling for oxygen after the Warriors picked up one point from the first two matches, which included a home defeat to Guinea under the guidance of Rahman Gumbo who has since been replaced by German coach Klaus-Dieter Pagels.
It would be a difficult job trying to resuscitate that dream considering the next two matches are against group leaders and favourites Egypt, who have already registered two wins in as many matches.
But Pagels has since promised to breathe life into this campaign by reinventing the Warriors into football pass masters.
The first match of the year would be away to the Pharaohs on March 22 with the first home match being against the same opponents on June 7.
Some in football circles have registered concern on whether Pagels can create a force to blow away Egypt by that time, but he is optimistic of turning average locally-based players into a strong Warriors unit.
A week after playing Egypt at home, the Warriors travel to Guinea for their penultimate group game before rounding off the pool matches with a home fixture against neighbours Mozambique on September 9.
For the Warriors to retain any chance of qualification, they have to finish top of their group and progress to the third and final round where they would then face one nation in a two-legged qualifier.
Zifa getting it right
As unlikely as it is, Zifa should start doing things right this year for the good reason that elections are looming. This year would determine whether the administrators get another term in office considering elections are in early 2014.
Zifa’s trump card is the national team given the manner in which the organisation failed last year in this regard. Considering Asiagate is almost done and dusted, Zifa can turn to the Warriors for salvation.
Zifa Vice-president Ndumiso Gumede threatened to pull the Warriors out of the World Cup qualifiers but he should not be taken seriously as they cannot afford such suicide.
Another DeMbare double dazzler?
With some nine months of what should be an exciting Castle Lager Premier League action expected, it is premature to even consider who would be at the summit of the log in the end.
But after winning the domestic double, Dynamos should be there among the favourites. With a massive investment in players aided by the sponsorship of BancABC, Dynamos has shopped for the best local talent to augment what is already in place as well as to replace players that might leave.
Caps United has also gone on a shopping spree after a disappointing year. The club is focusing on younger players.
Highlanders for all its strength is also expected to beef up its squad while Monomotapa which has lost its top players could still emerge a competitive force.
Triangle has been promoted into the top flight having accommodated rejects from Dynamos and Caps.
What all this points to is another exciting football calendar on the domestic scene in 2013.
Sables conquering Africa
The Sables’ focus has been and will continue to be the International Rugby Board 2015 World Cup qualification.
The only way that dream can materialise is for the national team to maintain a place in Africa’s Group 1A.
That way the Sables would be guaranteed a shot at England 2015, but if they are relegated to Group 1B, they would not even have a chance at the qualifiers in 2014.
Last year Zimbabwe won the Africa Cup, a feat they have to repeat in 2014 to gain an automatic place at the global showcase or go via the playoffs if they finish second — a more daunting prospect itself.