Let the cricket festival begin

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Let the cricket festival begin

THE SouthernTIMES Mar 19, 2018

    Robson Sharuko

    Harare – A three-week run feast is on the cards when the biggest global cricket festival to be held in Southern Africa in 15 years explodes into life in Harare and Bulawayo this weekend with Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa saying hosting the showcase can boost the government’s efforts to improve the image of the country.   

    Ten countries, including hosts Zimbabwe, will battle on cricket pitches in Harare, Bulawayo and the Midlands city of Kwekwe in a 21-day battle that will culminate in the two finalists winning tickets to play at the ICC Cricket World Cup finals in England and Wales next year.

    Zimbabwe, United Arab Emirates, Nepal, Ireland, Scotland, Afghanistan, Hong Kong, the West Indies, the Netherlands and Papua New Guinea are battling for the two places to England and Wales next year.

    England, Pakistan, New Zealand, Australia, India, Bangladesh, South Africa and Sri Lanka – who lost an ODI series to Zimbabwe on their shores last year - have already qualified for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 and will be joined by the two nations who make it from the Zimbabwe qualifiers.

    The high-stakes battles are not only about the pride of playing at the World Cup, and getting a chance to become World Champions, but there are also some huge financial benefits that come with being part of the global showcase where participants also share part of the revenue generated from television receipts.

    President Mnangagwa gave the tournament the Presidential Seal of Approval when he was the guest of honour at a cocktail in Harare on Sunday evening, which drew the attendance of most of the teams that will take part in the qualifying battle.

    The Zimbabwe President said it was a very important tournament for the country to host because it provided the nation – which had suffered from negative media coverage before the new political dispensation took over in November last year following the resignation of former President Robert Mugabe – with a window to show the world that it was moving in the right direction.

    Already, there are signs that things are changing with a number of British envoys coming to Harare to discuss the possibility of thawing the frosty relations, which have characterised the two countries in the past.

    The last time Zimbabwe, together with South Africa, hosted the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2003, the English cricket team, under pressure from some British politicians, refused to leave their base in Cape Town to fulfil their group match against the Chevrons in Harare.

    Instead, they chose to forfeit that game rather than tour Zimbabwe while, in subsequent years, Scotland were also pressured by the same politicians not to tour the country.

    However, things have changed and already Scotland are in Zimbabwe, without their visit triggering the kind of hysteria that it used to generate among some British politicians, while the Irish are also here for this cricket World Cup qualifier.

    The West Indies, who have won the World Cup twice, and rising global power Afghanistan, are the two favourites for the tickets to England and Wales but, as has happened in the past in ODI matches, anything can happen.

    There is also the issue of the weather, disrupting some of the key matches, with Zimbabwe having been receiving persistent rains for some time now.

    Windies captain Jason Holder believes the time has come for his side to add a third World Cup crown after the success of their Under-19 sides and women teams around the globe in recent years.

    “We’ve done well in T20 cricket, we’ve done well in women’s cricket and in Under-19 cricket. I think it’s about time we win another World Cup,” Holder told a news conference in Harare on Monday.

    “We know what is at stake. It is an opportunity for us to grab some momentum heading into next year’s World Cup, get some games under our belt, just finalise some combinations, get things straightened, and hopefully turn our cricket in terms of the ODI format.

    “It is probably our weaker formats. No doubt, we have not been consistent, something that we have addressed, hopefully going forward we should see some good performances.

    “We’ve got a well-balanced side, quality side with experience. Hopefully, we could gel together and make things happen in this tournament.

    “I must commend Chris (Gayle) and Marlon (Samuels), who have come here without motivation to do well for the Windies and give themselves a chance to play another World Cup.

    “As I said to the group, it may be an opportunity for guys to finish their careers well, it’s also an opportunity for guys to make a spark in their careers by playing in the World Cup.”

    Zimbabwe, as hosts, believe they will make it to the World Cup next year despite their poor showing in their last ODI series where they slumped to a 1-4 thrashing at the hands of Afghanistan whose captain Asghar Stanikzai will miss part of the start of the tournament after undergoing emergency surgery in Harare on Monday.

    Rashid Khan, the leg-spinner who destroyed the Zimbabweans in that series on his way to being ranked as the number one ODI cricketer in the world, is expected to lead the Windies until the return of their regular skipper.

    However, while Khan enjoyed the turning wickets in the United Arab Emirates, he is likely to find the pitches in Zimbabwe a bit different even though he said he was happy that the Asians were one of the favourites to make it to England next year.

    “It feels good to see that Afghanistan is a favourite to qualify. I think we should show it on the ground, it’s not only on paper that we should look good,’’ he told the same media conference.

    “We should give 100 percent on the ground and deliver. The result is not in our hands but we can only give 100 percent on the ground and play positive, believe in ourselves, just go in and enjoy.

    “We should take one by one - each game, not worry about qualifying for the final. We should finish the table having four points, it will be very handy in the next round. We have to take every match seriously.

    “We have to play good cricket against every team. Hopefully, it will go well and we will get four points and go to the next round.’’

    The tournament was known as the ICC Trophy until 2005 and Zimbabwe have won it three times, in 1982, 1986 and 1990 to qualify for the World Cup.

     

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