Mid-West Rhinos, based at Kwekwe, will be facing a challenging season with the news that Gary Ballance and Riki Wessels, the pair at the top of the national batting averages last season, will not be returning to the country this year, except possibly for the T20 tournament. Despite the monumental scoring of this pair, who averaged 84 and 90 respectively, the main weakness of the franchise last season was their batting, as the other batsmen proved unreliable and the tail very fragile.
The remaining batsmen appear strong on paper – notably the captain Brendan Taylor, Vusi Sibanda, Malcolm Waller and the Essex county player Jaik Mickleburgh – but they did not make much impact last season when they were available. The new coach, Grant Flower, is probably the ideal man to teach them to value their wickets. The bowling should present no worries, as Rainsford, Cremer, Chinouya, Muzhange, Mugava and Madziva all took more than 10 wickets each last season with good averages of below 25.
The full squad of contracted players is as follows: Brendan Taylor, Vusi Sibanda, Malcolm Waller, Graeme Cremer, Edward Rainsford, Richard Muzhange, Simon Mugava, Mike Chinouya, Remembrance Nyathi, Neville Madziva, Nyasha Mayavo, Jaik Mickleburgh and Alex Smith. Smith is a Zimbabwean returning to the country after six years in England.
Mark Vermeulen and Steve Trenchard (from Matabeleland Tuskers) are also in the squad on a “pay as you play” basis. If Vermeulen, who had retired last season from Southern Rocks due to a chronic back condition, does win a place in the team it will be his fourth franchise in four seasons, and his fifth ‘province’ altogether as he played for Mashonaland A in his youth.
Three others of last year’s team will also be missing. Roly Benade and Ian Nicolson have retired when they should be at their peak, while Steve Marillier was not retained.
The likelihood is that Mid-West Rhinos will learn to bat more consistently this season and be in a good position to wintheir first trophy in any inter-franchise competition.