Zimbabwe domestic season to proceed without funding
Zimbabwe's domestic season will get underway in two weeks' time, without sponsorship for any of its three formats. Originally scheduled to start in November, the competitions were delayed while Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) tried to secure funding. They have not been able to, but will stage a full season with all three formats being played, featuring all five franchises at venues across the country.
"The companies that we usually partner with have also been struggling to make ends meet," Lovemore Banda, ZC's media and communications manager, told the Herald newspaper. Corporates who previously partnered with ZC included beer brand Castle, Stanbic Bank, Metbank and Croco Motors. None of them have re-signed agreements after last season, and they were also absent during the incoming tours to Zimbabwe over this year.
Bangladesh, India and Pakistan all visited Zimbabwe between April and September this year. The series against Bangladesh and Pakistan consisted of two Tests, three ODIs and two T20s each and corporates associated with the two visiting countries, such as Cool&Cool and Haier were signed on as sponsors. The India series consisted of just five ODIs but provided ZC with a much-needed cash injection.
That money, together with the ICC grant, will play a big role in making the domestic season possible this summer. There has been no cricket in Zimbabwe since Pakistan's visit in September. A planned visit by Sri Lanka in October was postponed on ZC's request because of a lack of funds.
When that series was put on the backburner there were concerns Zimbabwe's domestic season would not take place at all, putting their status as ICC Full Members at risk. Sources told ESPNcricinfo the ICC sent a delegation to Zimbabwe to assess the state of the game there but the ICC offered a "no comment," when asked for a confirmation.
Whether pressure or assistance from the game's governing body has helped kickstart the season is not known but for the country's cricketers, this will be welcome game time after a lengthy period out of the game. Many Zimbabwean cricketers, including the captain Brendan Taylor, opening batsmen Hamilton Masakadza and allrounder Sean Williams, spent time in the Dhaka Premier Division.
For the rest, it has been a worrying waiting game with the knowledge that their next international assignment is a big one - the World T20 in Bangladesh next year- and match practice will be crucial before that. ZC has scheduled the T20 tournament to run a month before that competition starts on March 16. The entire event will be played at the Harare Sports Club over six days from February 4 to 9, with two matches taking place per day.
The season starts with the 50-over and first-class competitions which will be played simultaneously. To save money, a team will travel to the opponents' venue and play them in both a one-day game and a four-day match. Such a system cuts down travel costs. All teams play each other twice in each competition.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent