THE Zimbabwe A team’s upcoming tours of Netherlands and Canada mark the beginning of the country’s most important cricket season in years.
The importance of it lies in that this is the season before the Zimbabwe national team makes the much-awaited return to the Test arena, therefore offering a good opportunity to put systems in place, well on time, so as to avert humiliation and a quick return to the wilderness.
Last month the Zimbabwe Cricket board announced, following a visit to the country by the then ICC president Dave Morgan and chief executive Haroon Lorgat, that the national side will make a gradual return to Tests by hosting Bangladesh next May.
After Bangladesh’s visit, the Zimbabwe board will then engage more sides the board feels the local team can, at least, compete favourably with. Such sides as New Zealand, West Indies and Pakistan have been earmarked.
Zim A leaves the country on July 20 for two ICC Intercontinental Cup matches against the full Netherlands and Canadian teams. They will also play one limited overs match against the Dutch and two against the Canadians.
The Intercontinental Cup is a four-day first-class championship for the ICC’s tier two member nations. Last year Zimbabwe were allowed to field their second-string side in the competition to prepare them for Test cricket comeback.
A sufficiently large pool of players to draw from, capable of performing at the highest level of the game, is a prerequisite for Test cricket. The Intercontinental Cup allows Zimbabwe to test the depth of its pool.
The Zimbabwe A team will be captained by batsman Vusi Sibanda on tour.
Sibanda, together with teammates Stuart Matsikenyeri, Keith Dabengwa and Charles Coventry, have had a taste of Test cricket and are fairly experienced at first-class level. But other members of the touring party like Forster Mutizwa, Craig Ervine, Regis Chakabva, Tendai Chatara and Natsayi Mushangwe are still horning their skills.
These players need to be improved to back up the more experienced lot by the time Test commitments resume.
In September, the new domestic season will also get underway.
News that the five franchises will cut down on senior contracts offered to players will intensify competition.
The new contract system will allow for at least three overseas professionals per franchise.
Latest players said to be considering moves back home are the highly-rated Zimbabwean-born Gary Ballance, who was on the books at Derbyshire in the UK as a 16-year-old, and James Cameron, the former Zimbabwe cricket and rugby youth international who was only signed by Worcestershire in January.
Ex-Zimbabwe batsman Murray Goodwin is also being courted by one of the franchises for a player-coach role.
Some player movements are also expected between the teams.
On the coaching side, national team technical director Dave Houghton has already replaced Robin Brown at Matabeleland Tuskers following a disappointing first franchise season for the Bulawayo-based team.