Makorokoto, Southern Rocks, for becoming the first franchise to move from the comfort of their main franchise centre and take franchise cricket into the further reaches of their terrain. And congratulations also to Mountaineers for giving this bold venture their fullest support.
Admittedly Triangle is not a new frontier in the country’s cricket, although the area has fallen on hard times as far as the game was concerned. Their facilities are far better than anywhere else in Zimbabwe outside the five main franchise cities. Indeed, during the eighties four touring teams – Pakistan International Airlines, Sri Lanka, Pakistan B and Young West Indies – all played matches against Zimbabwe B or Zimbabwe Select teams on the Triangle ground, as well as a Zimbabwe B match against Border in 1979/80, the only first-class fixture on the ground to date. But when Test status was achieved in 1992, the concentration fell on the Test-match centres of Harare and Bulawayo, and by then Triangle cricket was in slow decline.
Interest in resuscitating Triangle cricket began as recently as November last year, when Graeme Nish (one of the prominent figures at Southern Rocks) initiated a request for Tongaat Hulett at Triangle to assist in sponsoring one of the Masvingo franchise cricket matches and to bring in a corporate tent if desired. Geoff Richards, who is the company secretary of Tongaat Hulett Triangle, passed this request letter from Graeme on to his wife Rose who then continued communications with Graeme. It was suggested that the franchise team consider playing one of their games at Triangle, which would generate a renewed interest in the sport within the Lowveld community, and facilitate an approach being made to Tongaat Hulett to consider sponsoring this initiative.
Graeme liked the idea and put it to the committee at Southern Rocks, while Rose went to Tongaat Hulett Triangle to drum up support and some sponsorship. Both sides responded with wholehearted approval. Tongaat Hulett agreed to sponsor all the meals and the Man of the Match awards (which in retrospect should have gone to Rose, who spent many busy weeks co-ordinating the entire operation!), and the accommodation of the officials at the Mteri Dam at Hippo Valley. Triangle Boating and Angling in turn agreed to sponsor the players’ accommodation at the Jiri Dam, which the players themselves much appreciated. Delta then also joined the party and agreed to sponsor drinks for the players.
Shirley Kuttner, who is responsible for the grounds at Triangle, and her team proceeded to prepare, with the guidance of Dave Houghton and ZC, an impressive pitch for the visitors. It was then arranged that Southern Rocks and Mountaineers would play one 50-over game on the Saturday, followed by a T20 game on the Sunday, for which purpose both teams travelled to Triangle on the Friday afternoon.
Sadly, the cricket itself was then again washed out by the weather. Prior to that particular week, Triangle had experienced very little rain at all; but now it came down in one deluge after another, and even the dry, well-drained sandy soil could not cope with that much water. It was a poor reward for Shirley Kuttner and her ‘team’ of workers for all the magnificent hard work they had put in since mid-November to prepare the pitch and outfield.
However, it was by no means a wasted weekend. All who visited were greatly impressed with all the facilities, including the two coaches, Dave Houghton of Southern Rocks (who frequently played on this ground during his own career) and Gary Brent of Mountaineers. Both were very keen to play there again, and the Mountaineers CEO, Jon Brent, promised, “We’ll be back.”
There have been suggestions that Southern Rocks should play half of their four home one-day fixtures in both competitions at Triangle in future, beginning perhaps at the start of next season in September or October 2013. This would mean braving the intense Lowveld heat but, as Gary Brent noted, “It would be excellent preparation for the national team prior to playing on the Indian subcontinent.”
According to Peter Hingeston, one of the last survivors of early Triangle cricket, who now lives in retirement at Umwindsidale in Harare, the growing of sugar cane in the area really took off during the late 1950s, and sugar farmers from Natal in South Africa, in particular, were invited to immigrate and share their expertise. One of these was Nainby Starling, a former captain of the Orange Free State cricket team, and with several other keen farmers, he really introduced serious cricket into the area.
The Triangle Country Club was built around 1960 by these private farmers, and included a field that doubled for both cricket and rugby. A team also started in Hippo Valley, and a rivalry developed between the two teams.
From there Lowveld cricket grew, and the two teams combined to form a Lowveld team under the auspices of Midlands, and competed for the Globe and Phoenix Trophy with Gweru and Masvingo.
They were hampered by poor roads and isolation, but they made several tours to Natal and Swaziland, due to the sugar connection. At one stage in the seventies they were aiming for full provincial status and a Lowveld team playing in the Logan Cup and put it to the committee at Southern Rocks, while Rose went to Tongaat Hulett Triangle to drum up support and some sponsorship. Both sides responded with wholehearted approval. and put it to the committee at Southern Rocks, while Rose went to Tongaat Hulett Triangle to drum up support and some sponsorship. Both sides responded with wholehearted approval. p, but that remained just out of their grasp, although they certainly had a strong team then. The national captain of the day, Brian Davison, was a strong supporter of their promotion and, as the national coach, was a frequent visitor.
There was also the famous Triangle double-wicket competition which ran for about six years in the late seventies, with some prominent Zimbabwean players taking part, as well as a few famous former South African cricketers such as Peter Carlstein, ‘Tiger’ Lance and Denis Lindsay. Another major annual fixture was the visit by Harare Stragglers, who always sent a strong team.
After independence, however, the cricket began to decline, as young players moved out and perhaps not enough was done to encourage and develop young black talent. The fast bowler Eddo Brandes, however, was a genuine local product who grew up in the Lowveld and often played for the Triangle Club.
When the farm invasions took place and all the former white sugar plantations were taken over, the cricket club came to an end. The field is still used regularly, however, by the neighbouring Murray McDougall Primary School, who carry on the Triangle tradition with an annual double-wicket tournament for junior school cricketers who are invited from schools all over the country. Now the Southern Rocks decision to play in Triangle has given hope for the future of adult cricket in Triangle again.
There was tremendous disappointment throughout the Lowveld at the abandonment of the Mountaineers matches due to the rain. It had confidently been expected that the attendance would have been at least five hundred, if not over a thousand. But the event has stirred up enthusiasm anew for the game in the area, and the locals are hoping that the Triangle Cricket Club may be revived, perhaps in partnership with Chiredzi, and that a small cricket league may be possible. Outside teams may be invited, Mutare Sports Club being one interested possibility. Some even envisage a day when “the Lowveld” will again be able to host touring teams and to resurrect the South-Eastern Districts cricket festival, which was also last held some time back in the eighties.