Welcome to the first issue of Zimbabwe Cricket Online for the 2002/03 season. Despite the problems in the country at present, ZCU are looking positively to the future and we will try to reflect their approach and their plans in our weekly issues.
Zimbabwe cricket faces the 2002/03 season with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation. With the World Cup early in 2003 to be partially hosted in Zimbabwe, there is everything to look forward to, but the holding of this tournament could yet be scuppered by political events, while the future of Zimbabwe cricket itself will be very dependent on both political and economic developments.
First of all, it is necessary to assert that the situation in Zimbabwe is nowhere near, and never has been near, a state in which visiting players would be in any kind of physical danger. Life goes on as normal in every area that visitors are likely to go, except for increasing economic hardships. The future is always unpredictable, but there is a long way to go before anybody in Zimbabwe would have any concerns about their inability, or even their need, to protect visiting players.
Zimbabwe's playing resources will be similar to last season, with Heath Streak having been invited and found willing to resume the captaincy. Stuart Carlisle captained the side for most of the previous season, a virtual third choice after Streak resigned and Brian Murphy was injured, but did not feel he had the confidence of the authorities as he tackled a difficult job that nobody else seemed to want. The team naturally found its resources stretched, but by the end of last season was beginning to pull together under coach Geoff Marsh. Apart from the World Cup, though, they face a rather slack season.
In modern cricket there is always the chance of an invitation to yet another one-day tournament; at present the only one for Zimbabwe apart from the World Cup is the ICC Champions Trophy in September. In October all the players are expected to be available for the first half of the revamped Logan Cup competition; in November comes Zimbabwe's only Test cricket of the southern summer. Pakistan, who know what it is like to be shunned by other countries for tours, visit Zimbabwe for two Tests and five one-day internationals.
There have been two late additions to the international programme. In December Kenya make their first official tour of Zimbabwe to play five one-day internationals, and in January South Africa A come up for a brief tour that will allow young or fringe players on both sides good preparation for the World Cup.
In January the first official limited-over inter-provincial competition is played, and then in February and March comes the World Cup. In April the Logan Cup is completed, and then immediately the players are off to England for their second official tour to that country, playing two Tests - Lord's and the inaugural Test match at the impressive new Riverside stadium in Chester-le-Street, Durham - and a one-day tournament.
The Logan Cup will for the first time be contested over the whole season, which precludes the CFX Academy from participating, as their year ends in December. Mashonaland A have also dropped out of the first-class arena, but several leading Mashonaland players are being deployed in other provinces to bring about a better balance of strength. The four provincial teams participating, therefore, will be Mashonaland, Matabeleland, Manicaland and Midlands. They will play each other both at home and away, six four-day matches each.
An innovation is the introduction of a B Division in the Logan Cup. This will consist of the A teams of each of the four major provinces, plus Masvingo. The five teams will play four three-day matches each, which will not be first-class. There are therefore nine teams in Zimbabwe this season all playing competitive versions of the longer game, a healthy state of affairs that will benefit cricket in the country.
In between times, the national club cricket league will continue. The first league, which struggled to maintain standards with twelve teams last season, has been pared down to ten, with Bulawayo clubs MacDonald and Bulawayo Sports Club dropping down to the second league. There remain six Harare teams: Harare Sports Club, Old Hararians, Old Georgians, Alexandra Sports Club, Universals and Takashinga. There are two Bulawayo sides, Queens and Bulawayo Athletic Club, and also Mutare and Kwekwe, from Manicaland and Midlands respectively.
In Mashonaland the Vigne Cup club competition will take place, only Mashonaland Cricket Association general manager Gus Mackay (an interview with whom will appear next week) expects it to be renamed after a major sponsor. He believes it will be a stronger competition than the national league, where the country's strength is split between ten teams. The Harare club competition contains seven teams, and many major players from other provinces return to the capital to play in that.
First-round results are included in this issue. The format has been changed. Impressed with the format used by the Birmingham League, where Mackay played for several seasons, he has abolished the 50-over limitation, which however remains in the national league. Matches are played to a maximum of 110 overs, with the team batting first required to declare after a maximum of 55. No restriction is placed on the number of overs a bowler may bowl.
They must then bowl out the opposition to win the match. Failure to do so gives them merely a `winning draw' (6 points) instead of a victory, while their opponents are credited with a `losing draw' (2 points). The reward for an outright victory is 20 points.