Zimbabwe's plans for a third Test ground in the country to complement those in Harare and Bulawayo are set to come to fruition after the Victoria Falls local council granted planning approval for a stadium near the iconic site. Zimbabwe Cricket chief executive Ozias Bvute and chairman of selectors Alistair Campbell confirmed the council approval, and said that construction work will begin early next year.
"This is one of the great natural wonders of the world and playing international and first-class cricket there will cause a lot of excitement among visiting players and fans," said Bvute. "Tourism is on the up in this country and sporting tourism especially so.
"We had eight or nine thousand for a recent Twenty20 tournament in Harare and that has given us additional confidence to go ahead, apart from other factors," added Campbell. "People now go to Dubai for cricket. We will soon be an alternative to that. There is a lot of vision here at the moment."
As well as hosting Tests and ODIs, the ground will also provide a second home, after Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo, for domestic side Matabeleland Tuskers. In addition, ZC are hoping that other teams - particularly English representative and county sides - will be attracted to use the facilities for pre-season tours.
Widely considered to be one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Victoria Falls sits on the Zambezi river on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and is also a World Heritage site. At the height of Zimbabwe's tourism industry it attracted several hundred thousand visitors a year. Those numbers dwindled as the country's political situation deteriorated, with most travellers opting to reach the Falls through Zambia, but amid relative stability in recent years the number of tourists has started to pick up again.
Development on both the Zimbabwean and Zambian sides has not been without its problems in the past, and in 2007 plans to build 500 chalets in a national park on the Zambian side, and the collapse of infrastructure in Zimbabwe, prompted Unesco to warn that the area could lose its World Heritage status. That never happened, however, and the development of the cricket ground will utilise the latest ecologically-friendly features.
Approximations of the total capacity of the ground range between 4,000 and 12,000 and no cost estimates have been made available so far, but architects are said to be drawing up plans for a clubhouse. Once completed, it will be accessible by road, rail and air in Zimbabwe, while several airlines offer flights from Johannesburg, the journey taking under two hours.