So Zimbabwe’s cricketers ride off into the sunset to take their Christmas and New Year break at the halfway stage of the cricket season. They will return on 5 January to complete their one-day tournament programmes.
The final matches just played show that, despite their astonishingly bad showing in the Logan Cup, Mashonaland Eagles can certainly play the limited-overs game.
The great showdown last Wednesday in their vital twenty20 match against Mountaineers – the only team that can challenge them in this competition – resulted in an easy victory, despite losing the toss which is usually important at Harare Sports Club.
The T20 points table now reads as follows, with the matches played in brackets:
Mashonaland Eagles 24 (6), Mountaineers 18 (6), Mid-West Rhinos 9 (5), Southern Rocks 6 (6), Matabeleland Tuskers 4 (5).
This is the second time this season that Mashonaland Eagles have beaten Mountaineers in this competition and, with two matches to play, they are almost assured of topping the league table. Unfortunately for them, they will be required to play a final against the runners-up, which will almost certainly be Mountaineers as the other three times are way behind.
However, Mid-West Rhinos could make the final given remarkable circumstances.
If Mountaineers happen to win that final, Mashonaland Eagles could have the title snatched from them, as happened in the Logan Cup competition two seasons ago, when Mountaineers topped the league by a great distance, only for Keegan Meth of Matabeleland Tuskers to bowl magnificently and secure an upset victory for his team.
In the Pro50 competition, Mid-West Rhinos, who secured two big victories over Southern Rocks this week, are favourites now to head the table, which reads:
Mid-West Rhinos 19 points (5 matches), Mashonaland Eagles 17 (6), Matabeleland Tuskers 13 (5), Mountaineers 10 (6), Southern Rocks 2 (6).
The first three teams are therefore well in contention for the final, with Mid-West Rhinos sitting pretty with a lead of two points over Mashonaland Eagles and with a match in hand.
The cricket this season has been very interesting, with the international players available for their franchises. The most impressive department of the game has been the seam bowling. Each franchise now has a formidable seam-bowling attack and the national selectors will have an embarrassment of riches to choose from when they consider the team to tour the West Indies in February.
Look at these leading candidates:
Mashonaland Eagles – Kyle Jarvis and Tatenda Gumunyu-Manatsa.
Matabeleland Tuskers – Chris Mpofu, Keegan Meth, Glenn Querl and Njabulo Ncube.
Mid-West Rhinos – Edward Rainsford and Mike Chinouya
Mountaineers – Shingirai Masakadza, Tendai Chatara and Donald Tiripano
Southern Rocks – Tinashe Panyangara and Tawanda Mupariwa
They are backed up by others doing a good job, and two recent international players who are likely to miss out through lack of form this season are Brian Vitori of Southern Rocks and Richard Muzhange of the Mid-West Rhinos.
The bad news is that the batting has been the least impressive department of the game, especially at the top of the order, and for most of the time the above bowlers have not been challenged as they should by confident batsmen determined to dominate them – as will happen in the West Indies.
It can be a very different story for some bowlers when they start getting pasted all over the field. Some of them wilt, some keep plugging away and never give up, while the odd few pull something special out of the bag.
So poor has been most of the batting this season, on reasonable pitches, that it is hard to tell who are the best candidates when put under extreme pressure.
Spin bowling also gives some concern. We still have Prosper Utseya and Raymond Price – the latter missing most of the season to date through illness, but they are more defensive one-day bowlers rather than attacking spinners like Graeme Cremer, who has yet to appear this season due to his chronic knee injury.
We have only one local spinner in the country with more than 10 Logan Cup wickets so far – Natsai M’shangwe of Mountaineers, who has a good haul of 20 at 21.95 each.
The fielding overall is average – but in Zimbabwe we traditionally expect it to be brilliant.
Hopefully all our players will use part of their break to polish up the areas of their game that have been faulty. Andy Flower was not a naturally great batsman, but he made himself into one through tremendous mental strength and unceasing quality practice.
Whatever the department of the game, we have players in this country with as much or even more natural talent than Andy Flower had, who can, by copying his methods and attitude, make a similar mark on international cricket. They just need to have the will.
We look forward to seeing our players in action again on the 5th of January, when Mashonaland Eagles host Mid-West Rhinos at Harare Sports Club, and Matabeleland Tuskers host Southern Rocks at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo.