November 25, 1999

Zimbabwe Test Grounds Undergoing Major Development

John Ward and Dave Everington

Zimbabwe Cricket Union vice-president Dave Everington talks to John Ward about the major developments taking place at Zimbabwe's leading venues.

Besides being ZCU vice-president, Dave Everington is in charge of the special projects sub-committee, which is part of the facilities committee which deals with specific items of development, in this case capital development projects at the major grounds.

Zimbabwe has currently only two Test grounds, Harare Sports Club and Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo, and the ZCU is mainly concerned with these two grounds at present. Their plans are based on the fact that the next World Cup will be held in South Africa in 2003, but Zimbabwe will play all their preliminary matches in that tournament at home, and it is vital that all facilities on those two grounds reach international standards by then.

The ZCU have identified areas of priority for improvement, and of prime importance are the media facilities. At Harare Sports Club a temporary media centre has been built, although it may still be a little while before the permanent structure in built. A satisfactory media centre in Bulawayo has been longer in coming, but the Matabeleland Cricket Association are confident that when it comes it will be better than the one in Harare. Alongside it will be some corporate boxes which will be leased to help pay for the development.

The second priority is the public and players. The Harare Sports Club dressing rooms have already been refurbished but the next project may be to provide completely new changing rooms at both grounds. The siting of these changing rooms is important, as the ZCU is leasing the Harare ground from the Sports Club and have virtually finalised a similar arrangement with Queens. Both clubs have given the ZCU a designated area and therefore new developments need to be kept within that area. It is possible that ZCU may opt instead simply to upgrade the existing facilities.

For spectators, new toilet blocks have been built at both centres, and further facilities are planned. At Harare Sports Club new stands have been bought from the Police rugby ground and are situated in the south-west corner of the ground; there are plans probably to buy some more stands from the same place in the near future. The Tobacco Industry Supporters Club has built a private concrete stand on the west side of the ground next to the scoreboard, and there are plans to build as many as 18 private boxes there to sell for additional revenue. The ZCU has spent almost four million Zimbabwe dollars to date on the ground, mainly in improving spectator facilities, including shade cloth for the stands and upgrading access points. The present media centre is a donation from two commercial companies.

Mr Everington has been given a mandate to draw up an overall plan for the ground, and the next major project is to draw up plans for a grandstand for the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, to be situated on the north-west side of the ground. This will consist of such facilities as VIP areas, a president's room, cocktail bars, dining rooms and the like, and will probably be a joint venture between the ZCU and the Mashonaland Cricket Association, and possibly the Stragglers Cricket Club. It may also include offices for the secretariat.

The magnitude of the project depends on the amount of ground available for it. Just behind the boundary wall is the Harare Sports Club swimming pool; at one stage the club was willing to hand that area over for development as well, but it now appears as if they are having second thoughts about it. If this is not possible, then the grandstand will have to be considerably restricted in scope.

It remains a problem that neither ground belongs to the ZCU, but they are putting up all the money for capital development, so the plan is that the provincial associations will run and maintain them once they have been built. It is not intended to be a handout on the part of ZCU, but the provincial associations will be expected to raise money to maintain them; for example, the Matabeleland Association will raise money by renting or selling their corporate boxes, with the revenue returning to the ZCU. The surplus will be put towards other projects on the ground.

It is also intended to develop the basic facilities on these grounds; the electrical system at Queens has already been upgraded and the intention is shortly to do the same in Harare. The tented village on the west side of the ground is nowadays a very important and attractive feature of the one-day matches especially at Harare Sports Club, having developed from a mere four or five tents a few years back to about thirty today. They now include such things as television sets, full-scale lighting and tea rooms, and it has become an important social area, especially after a match. So ZCU are considering upgrading the electrics on that side of the ground as well to make an increasingly pleasant area for people to come and watch. The idea of building a grassy embankment in the area has also been proposed.

No permanent development in the form of stands is therefore planned at present for the east side of the ground, although the nets and practice area for players will be upgraded and extended, together with the floodlights which are still there from the former rugby area. It is envisaged that eventually good facilities will be provided for up to 15 000 spectators in Harare and 10- to 12 000 at Queens, and all to be completed by 2002 in preparation for the World Cup. There is also the small matter of inflation in Zimbabwe, currently running officially at 70%, so the sooner they are completed the cheaper it will be.

Matabeleland has been complaining for many years that they have not had a fair slice of the cake when it comes to international cricket - this season, for example, they host one Test against Harare's three, although five one-day internationals against seven - but Mr Everington insists that the ZCU are keen to give Bulawayo a fair share. Harare Sports Club at present hosts more international cricket than any other ground in the world and they are very happy to use Queens regularly, as an excellent ground, in many ways a better cricket arena than the Harare Sports Club.

The idea of floodlit cricket in Zimbabwe has been tossed around for some time, but this is actually very low on the ZCU's list of priorities. The cost of installing lights would be in the region of 50 million Zimbabwe dollars, while the costs of running them would also be huge, too great for them to recover through increased revenue from other sources. Mr Everington also feels that floodlit cricket in other countries is beginning to lose some of its appeal as the novelty wears off.

Although at present there are not the facilities or support for full international matches in the minor provinces, considerable progress is being made in Kwekwe, centre of the Midlands. Mutare in the eastern highlands is also seen as a significant centre worthy of hosting first-class matches, at present just in the Logan Cup and matches involving such touring teams as county sides or UCBSA Bowl games. The ZCU is keen to give these two small cities as much cricket of this sort as possible.

Kwekwe have just had a 'magnificent' centre of excellence put in by Nissan, and plans are to employ a couple of coaches in the area and to develop a proper administration. ZCU plans to spend some money there not just on development but also to upgrade such facilities as covers, boundary ropes and sightscreens, and a new small spectator stand. Kwekwe has already good enough facilities to cater for first-class matches, and it is unfortunate that they have recently suffered serious problems with their ground. They have lost most of the grass on their pitch, which led to a disastrous match between the Sri Lankans and the CFX Academy, and it has been necessary to transfer a Bowl match away from them; it will probably take at least a year before their ground is fit for use again.

Mutare is a possibility for further development, and the Manicaland association has been approached and invited to make suggestions about what they would like within a certain framework, as a basis for discussion.

Masvingo and the Lowveld must not be forgotten. Although at present there is little in the way of well-developed cricket facilities in Masvingo town, there are excellent facilities in Triangle in the south-east of Zimbabwe. The overwhelming problem is getting there, as the local aerodrome cannot handle aircraft large enough to carry two teams, and it would not be easy to talk into international teams into making a 500-kilometre coach trip to play there.

The idea to extend Zimbabwe's cricket season into the winter months is gaining ground, and the current wet conditions surrounding the Sri Lanka tour give weight to that idea. Mr Everington remembers playing cricket in Malawi, where the season ran from April to September, and is keen to see top-class cricket played in those months; there is, he says, no better place in the world to play cricket in those months when rain is rare, the sun is expected to shine all day long and the daytime temperatures are in the region of 20 degrees Celsius. Already the West Indies have been booked in for the 2001 winter and certain other countries have also expressed an interest.

It also makes good sense from a business point of view, Mr Everington avers, as at present ZCU are incurring twelve months' expenses but only six months' income. He feels that by extending the season by three months at one end or the other they can get nine months' worth of cricket. This would be a handicap for players wanting to play in England at this time of year, though, but Mr Everington feels this could be matched by the quality of cricket available playing against Test-playing countries who would probably be able to tour for longer periods.