Well played, Zim Cricket!

Sports Panorama:mike madoda

Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC)’s launch of the National Premier League and its subsequent start this past week has brought with it renewed hope that good days are around the corner.

The 36-match tournament is being contested by nine club sides — Amakhosi, Queens, Takashinga, Rainbow, Gladiators, Harare Kings, Great Zimbabwe, MidWest and Easterns — and is set to provide our under-cooked cricketers with more time in the oven.

The competition, which was launched at the ceremonial home of Zimbabwe Cricket, Harare Sports Club, by ZC chairman Tavengwa Mukuhlani, marks an important step by his board to ensure Zimbabwe’s cricket structures, including the club system, are healthy and vibrant.

The challenges that have bedeviled the sport in the country over the last couple of decades have been numerous and well documented. The increasing politicisation of cricket at the turn of the century coupled with the economic challenges that beleaguered Zimbabwe, disrupted the progress of a sport that many felt was on its way to achieving world-class status, if it hadn’t done so already.

A massive player exodus followed as white players abandoned ship leaving the then Zimbabwe Cricket Union floundering in choppy waters. The Chevrons by reason of their position at the top of the sport in Zimbabwe seemed the most affected as their fortunes on the international scene waned with victories too far and few in-between.

But the truth is, the damage was far greater at grassroots level with club cricket left with its head barely above the water. As the sport lurched from one crisis to another, the game at grassroots level was all but forgotten. Cricket administrators looked at the national team as the only horse worth keeping in the race.

The one positive, some could argue, was the emergence of Takashinga Cricket Club which arose from the from the ashes like a phoenix — providing a new generation of black cricketers based in the high-density suburb of Highfields. But one club alone could not plug the yawning gap that had been created in the upheaval.

Generally, youth cricket progresses in a linear fashion, bowlers get faster, batsmen hit harder. But the adult game, of which club cricket is a first step, exposes you to a range of techniques and approaches to the game. Take a young batsman for example, he will take his guard at the crease anticipating that he will face up to a battery of snarling fast bowlers steaming in and tickling his rib cage, but then quickly realises that the reality of a disciplined medium pacer delivering his “military-medium” with metronomic accuracy is a far more terrifying prospect.

With the NPL, aspiring cricketers will be faced with an assortment of adversaries, not to mention the array of conditions club grounds are likely to present. The focus will shift from technical ability to mental agility and resilience, to ultimately finding a method that consistently works – only then can you be an option for first-class cricket.

Former Chevrons skipper Hamilton Masakadza, now the director of cricket at ZC, will appreciate more than most the need to get young cricketers playing more — be it at local or international level. As a player, his progress and development into the world-class bracket was stifled by a lack of game time, supportive structures and the stability afforded to his peers in other test playing nations.

If we are to avoid the same fate befalling the likes of Wesley Madhevere, who looks to have a bit about him, the re-genesis of club cricket in Zimbabwe, which reestablishes what many viewed as the basis of our past success must be cultivated and given the support it needs to yield the fruit that will sustain Zimbabwe cricket for years to come. Off the field, it’s incumbent upon ZC to grow and evolve the NPL. The creation of a self-sustaining financial model will be important if ZC managing director Givemore Makoni and his team are to realise any growth.

Corporate Zimbabwe must be wooed to embrace the league. While ZC has committed to sponsor the NPL, it’s longevity will be better guaranteed if it’s professionally run and competitive, thereby attracting the corporate dollars that follow any platform with the capacity to showcase brands, products and services.

Another key milestone on the road to commercialization, will be decentralizing the clubs — weaning them off ZC so that the mother body provides oversight, but the clubs run their own affairs. More than just wanting a new generation of cricketers, it is an opportunity for aspiring administrators to cut their teeth.

It was good to hear Mukuhlani declare: “A strong club system fixes the problems at first-class level and when first-class cricket is fixed, there is no problem at national team level.”

It is true, it’s the structures that feed into the national team that determine the quality of cricketer available for selection. While Zimbabwe has a difficult operating environment, which has been compounded by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the NPL is the start of what could be a fantastic knock if ZC knuckles down and sticks to the basics — blunt the attack, build an innings and look for scoring opportunities.

Like a batsman in their 20s, ZC looks set, but the pressure is on to convert and score big.

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