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Junior cricket moves a gear up

Enock Muchinjo

AT the time of writing, Zimbabwe had capped two more players at the Test level.

Batsmen Charles Coventry and Terrenc

e Duffin received their maiden caps on the first day of the first Royal Stag Test match between Zimbabwe and India.

This brings to four the number of players capped at the beginning of the 2005/06 season, after Neil Ferreira and Keith Dabengwa donned the Zimbabwe colours for the first time in the first Croco Motors Test with New Zealand last month.

As has been stressed several times on this column, the significance of having a large pool of players is vital to Zimbabwean cricket. It is imperative to give more exposure to players before they graduate into the Test side.

And it is delightful that the last four players to be capped by Zimbabwe in the Tests did not only have significant first-class experience at the time of their Test debuts, but had also featured in junior cricket for years.

This shows a degree of consistency in local cricket. It furnishes further proof to the assertion by Kevin Curran on his appointment as the new Zimbabwe national team coach that the school and junior sports system in this country is among the best in the world.

Cricket authorities in the country claim to have a pool of 60 players playing competitive cricket in Zimbabwe. Half of that player base are products of the schools and junior system, while the other half are the new crop of players from the previously overlooked areas.

Measures have to be taken now to consolidate this proud tradition, while at the same time taking care of the emerging force from the development areas.

In this respect, Zimbabwe’s junior cricket might feel a bit deprived of part of its lifeline, the annual provincial tournaments in South Africa, where Zimbabwean junior teams used to take part.

The Zimbabwean sides used to travel at the end of every year for the Standard Bank, PG Byson and Coca-Cola Week tournaments, but the South Africans have increased their own provinces’ participation in the tournaments, leaving the Zimbabweans without a slot.

In a welcome development, Zimbabwe will now send three junior sides, the Under-14s, Under-16s and Under-17s, to Namibia in December.

In addition, Zimbabwe’s Under-19 side will play in the inaugural Afro-Asian Under-19 Cup in Vishakhapatham, India, in November. The Under-19s are also set to represent the country at the ICC Under-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka next year.

Jimmy Chikange, Zimbabwe Cricket’s national schools manager, was particularly excited about the introduction of the Afro-Asia Cup for the youth sides.

“It’s a huge development,” Chikange said. “It gives the youngsters international experience and exposure on a regular basis. This particular tournament in India in November will also give the boys a feel of sub-continent conditions, with Sri Lanka being the venue of next year’s (Under-19) World Cup.”

The six Test-playing nations from the African and Asian continents – India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Africa and Zimbabwe – will be represented at the tournament. A league format will see all six teams play against each other, with the top two teams going into the final on November 27.

Zimbabwe play their first match against neighbours South Africa on November 19.

On the Namibian tour, Zimbabwe will for the first time select an Under-17 side to breach the gap between the Under-16 and Under-19 sides, Chikange said. The three teams for Windhoek will play several matches against Namibia’s junior national sides.

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