Gayle and Nannes gear up for Zimbabwe challenge
Chris Gayle hopes to make an explosive impression on Zimbabwe's domestic Twenty20 competition, Stanbic Bank 20 Series, which starts on Friday. Gayle is one of 16 foreign players who will participate in the 10-day tournament and hopes his maiden appearance in the country is one to remember.
"It's my first time in this tournament, so as a player I want to make an impact," Gayle said in Harare. "I've done well around the world and I want to give the spectators something to cheer about."
Gayle is the second West Indian to be signed on for the event after Brian Lara, who played for the Southern Rocks last year. Although his presence was immense, Lara's performances were not and he managed just 99 runs from three matches.
The Jamaican is expected to do better than that when he turns out for the Matabeleland Tuskers, where he will team up with the likes of Charles Coventry. He had been playing limited-overs cricket for Jamaica in the lead-up to the tournament and said he would still like some practice before the first match on Friday.
"I've stuck to what I've done before other tournaments but I need to get more time in the nets," he said. "Tomorrow [Thursday] will be crucial for me to get some time in the middle."
After an IPL in which he scored 608 runs in 12 matches, including two centuries and three fifties, Gayle's reputation as the ultimate power-hitter was rubber-stamped. He explained that his sensational form is rooted in cricket's simple basics, that he continues to apply meticulously. "The key is to get a start. That releases a lot of pressure," he said. "Having said that, you don't want to go there and relax too much, it might not work. But, a start for any batsman gives him confidence."
Another player who is attracting attention in the Zimbabwe capital is journeyman left-arm fast bowler Dirk Nannes, who will represent Mountaineers. Nannes has made his name as a Twenty20 nomad and is also playing in Zimbabwe for the first-time. "I am coming here with an open mind because I have never been here before," he said.
Nannes has played in various Twenty20 competitions, such as the IPL, Australia's Big Bash and England's Friends Life T20 and said each new event brings its own learning curves. "It's a challenge walking into a new team environment and playing in these conditions is a challenge," Nannes said. "Obviously there are no players here that I have played against before, so it will be a challenge to bowl to people who I have never bowled to before, because I don't know what their strengths are."
Nannes had to withdraw from the IPL when he picked up a side strain but recovered to play for Surrey in the Friends Life T20 and Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Champions League. "I am as strong as I've ever been," he said. "I don't know if I am the fittest in terms of doing laps around the ground because I don't do a lot of running these days. But I've had about six weeks off and I've gone back to Australia, worked on bowling fitness, worked on my action a bit and I feel like I'm ready."
Nannes' Mountaineers will play in the first match of the tournament against the Mid West Rhinos on Friday while Gayle and the Tuskers will take to the field later that afternoon against defending champions, Mashonaland Eagles.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent