Easterns have won Zimbabwe's provincial Twenty20 tournament with a seven-run win over Westerns in the final on Good Friday, but concerns over standards of play over the three days hogged the limelight.
Zimbabwe Cricket were using the tournament, a last-minute fixture in place of the twice-postponed Logan Cup, to prepare for South Africa's domestic Standard Bank Pro20 contest. But the ever-tumbling domestic standards were in evidence.
It gave indications that the Zimbabweans could expect pretty much the same or even worse treatment on the field against the South African franchises as they did in the MTN domestic championship, more so as their opponents in South Africa have more adept and experienced at this version. What's more, they have already identified their Twenty20 specialists while the Zimbabweans are still searching.
And neither did they find them in this tournament. No one set the competition alight, although the usual suspects, Brendan Taylor (Northerns), Hamilton Masakadza (Easterns), Tatenda Taibu (Northerns) and Stuart Matsikenyeri (Easterns) all showed good consistency with the bat and threw caution to the wind when necessary, perhaps conscious of their role as the best Zimbabwe can manage at the moment. They could ill-afford to have their best misfiring.
If this was a positive, its one that quickly wipe the smile off the selectors' faces because few from outside the pool of current national and A side players staked claims and showed Twenty20 attributes. Perhaps it's a good thing because now the coaching staff can only concentrate on few, targeted players at Twenty20.
But then, Zimbabwe Cricket has been boasting about the success of its outreach programme where new cricketers are being churned out in the new structures. Besides, Zimbabwe needs to widen its pool now more than any other time. It was generally acknowledged that the available talent wasn't that big when Zimbabwe were doing well before the senior players left, and with not much resources now as in the past, it will be a real struggle to get things right.
Without experienced bowlers, those in the tournament, particularly the seamers, tried too hard to adjust their actions for Twenty20, thus overcomplicating their bowling and not getting the balance between defence and attack. They went for aggression and in the process losing the basic line and length. The only time they looked good was when the batsmen were getting themselves in trouble. To the better bowlers, it was so easy to read the batsmen's good shots thereby getting them to play outside their comfort zones and drying up runs.
Attendances were far from encouraging, largely because few outside the inner circles knew about the tournament due to poor publicity. Only a handful stumbled upon the final day play while patronising the Keg & Maiden bar on Good Friday.
The victory by Easterns, formerly Manicaland, means they become the new dominant side in Zimbabwe provincial cricket after winning the Logan Cup last year. But the province is made up almost entirely of players from Harare, drawn from the Takashinga club in particular, and cricketers based in the province hardly got a chance to play, as was the case last year. The purpose seems to be to fool people into believing these is strength outside the capital.
Southerns (Masvingo) and Centrals (Midlands) do have a fair number of players originally from the provinces, but Harare players are also posted to strengthen the sides. That leaves Northerns, the former Mashonaland, and Westerns (Matabeleland), the only sides without exported players.