By Enock Muchinjo
THE Zimbabwe “A” cricket team, the national second-string side, will next month go on a tour to Namibia to play in two three-day matches and three limited-o
The Namibia tour is only the first engagement in a busy schedule for Zimbabwe “A”, which had a similar programme last season. That one ended with a tour to Bangladesh by a well-balanced Zimbabwe “A” side which included players who had missed selection for a Test tour to Australia with the first team.
In addition to strong domestic competition, a strong and well-supported national “A” side is the lifeblood of any serious cricket-playing nation. The “A” side plays the role of nursery for the national team, perfecting the skills of the upcoming players and gradually churning them out to the national side to replace tiring, retiring or out-of-form players.
The process of integration into the national side should be gradual, it must be emphasised. Players should have about two to three years of hard work and unquestionable commitment in the “A” side before they can be considered for the national team.
The top cricket nations in the world — Australia, South Africa and India — all invest in competent “A” sides which comprise top-class players who usually exert pressure on the players already in the national team to perform.
Breaking into the national team is not an easy task, and many players who make the “A” side never get to play full international cricket in those countries.
Those who make it rarely fail at the highest level. Instead, they make instant impact. That is largely because of the early firm foundation that they would have got in international first-class cricket.
Current South African captain Graeme Smith was not even in the South Africa World Cup squad last year. He was, instead, touring Zimbabwe with the “A” side before the World Cup. That South Africa “A” side included the likes of outstanding batsman Jacques Rudolph, wicketkeeper Thami Tholekile and pace bowler Andre Nel who have enjoyed considerable success in their first matches for the Proteas.
Also, it took a while for Michael Clarke to be a Test cricketer for Australia and, when he finally played, his century on Test debut away in India was hardly surprising, considering the first-class experience acquired over a decent period of time.
Basically, what happens in these countries is that selection into the national team revolves around a group of 20 players. If a player goes through a bad patch and needs to be replaced, there is always a more senior and ready player waiting on the sidelines. Selectors do not rush to the “A” side, unless if someone there is exceptionally good and cannot be ignored.
This system allows the “A” players to develop and measure themselves against reserve sides from other countries. They also get a chance to play full touring national sides in warm-up matches.
Applying this to the Zimbabwe scenario is a bit tricky. The majority of the players in the domestic Logan Cup and Faithwear series, which are used as criteria for selection, are young. The current team is made up of young and experienced players and they should not be made to believe that their places in the team are guaranteed, thereby the need to bring in other players to create competition for places.
The Zimbabwe “A” side is dominated by young players who should be given time to mature before they can think of playing for the national team.
Under-19 players like Kudakwashe Samunderu, Sean Williams, Ian Nicholson and Chamunorwa Chibhabha are exciting prospects, but just have to work a lot harder before they can break through.
Players in the Zimbabwe “A” side who should have realistic chances of making it into a possible changed team for the South Africa tour after Bangladesh are the likes of Ngonidzaishe (Blessing) Mahwire, Alester Maregwede, Gavin Ewing and Mark Vermeulen, who have played first-class cricket for a while and have already been capped.
As pointed out, this “A” side system might be difficult in this country. Young players like Samunderu, Chibhabha and Williams are the ones who are scoring the runs in domestic first-class cricket and the selectors are using the players’ form in these matches to choose national team players.
Young leg-spinner Graeme Cremer, barely out of high school, is currently touring with the national team because, under the existing selection policy, he deserves to be in that side. He has taken 12 wickets in the four-day Logan Cup and has one of the best bowling averages in the tournament. But Cremer, alongside 18-year-old pace bowler Chris Mpofu, has played first-class cricket for less than a year.
Maybe what the selectors need to do is to revise the selection policy. Selection on current form yes, but then a player should have spent at least two years in first-class cricket, or should have at least been involved in a certain number of outings for the “A” side. From there, Zimbabwe’s growing pool of players will explode onto the international arena.Zimbabwe “A” squad to Namibia:
Alester Maregwede (captain), Gavin Ewing (vice-captain), Chamunorwa Chibhabha, Sean Williams, Tafadzwa Mufambisi, Craig Ervine, Blessing Mahwire, Tawanda Mupariwa, Waddington Mwayenga, Hillary Matanga, Keith Dabengwa, Ryan Bennett, Ian Nicholson and Mark Vermeulen.