From little acorns ...
It's early days, but the signs are Zimbabwe's new franchise system might just work. Whatever happens, those running the game have actually done something positive to address years of decline and that can only be good.
The cricket was decent, and importantly the pitches, which have come in for their fair share of criticism, appeared to hold up well over four days. That one of the games was at Harare Sports Club, which has maintained standards even in the toughest times, means the real test has yet to come, but, again, the signs are promising,
Zimbabwe Cricket insists the franchise system is fair and that players are closely tied to their regional set-ups. If so, that can only help expand the game. In the past the provincial sides have at times been little more than teams bussed out from Harare, a fact admitted by ZC, so anything that genuinely spreads cricket's reach has to be applauded.
"There's a fair amount of regional representation now," Ozias Bvute, the board's chief executive, told Cricinfo. "Look at teams like Southern Rocks and Tuskers, where the majority of players have returned to their original places of birth to play for their franchise. Some of the franchises are also working on signing overseas players." Cricketers from Asia in general and Pakistan in particular are believed to be the main targets.
That almost all the national team players as well as some faces from the past were on show has to bode well.
It seems churlish to grumble, but one of the keys to the success of the new structure, both inside the country and internationally, is the way the board publicises it. There have been daily releases, which is progress, but scorecards have been almost impossible to find and reports have been brief. In Zimbabwe, where the media often need things served up on a plate, the board has to accept it might have to spoon-feed them. With only two games a round ZC could help itself by allocating a specialist cricketer writer to each match to provide expert reports.
Bvute insists the board is committed to bringing matches to a wider audience. "The thing about these franchises, and the major difference with the old ZC structure, is that it is really community based and that is how they are being sold. You'll find therefore that the coverage is localised, Bulawayo are going crazy about the Tuskers and Harare about the Eagles for example."
The only other gripe is that the board's own website, which should be the best place to find information, remains in a state of seemingly semi-permanent construction, although Bvute says this should be up and running next week.
But it's not the time to be churlish. Given the state of domestic cricket in Zimbabwe only a few years ago when things were so chaotic that ZC could not even run the Logan Cup, the progress is considerable and impressive. The challenge now is not only to maintain the improvements but to build on them.
Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa