21st May: Chennai Super Kings v M. Indians, 14:30 GMT
16th-20th May: 1st Test, Lord's
Zimbabwe’s domestic Twenty 20 competition, the Stanbic Bank T20, came to its conclusion at the weekend with the Mountaineers franchise ending up as the overall victors.
Now normally a domestic tournament played on the other side of the world wouldn’t register hugely in the genteel world of English county cricket, but this time it was different. Out of the 66 players involved in the 10-day, five team extravaganza, 14 featured in county cricket last year, with at least 11 of those expected to do so again in 2012.
For example, Surrey captain Rory Hamilton-Brown led runners-up, the Mashonaland Eagles, for much of the event, while the Lancashire duo of Paul Horton and Tom Smith featured for pre-tournament favourites, the Matabeleland Tuskers.
The reason for this abundance of English talent was because each franchise was allowed to field four overseas imports; the majority of which came from the UK because they are the only one of the Test playing nations to have this period of the year as their off-season.
The tournament itself, which is in its third year and is run by a private company with the blessing of Zimbabwe Cricket, was a roaring success, with the scores regularly exceeding the Twenty20 benchmark of 160, and in doing so underlining the high standard of cricket that was on show.
Another factor that demonstrated the high standard of the event was the number of local players that shone through. Among the expected stars such as the Masakadza brothers and Brendan Taylor were promising signs for Zimbabwe’s future, as players such as Tendai Chatara, Kudzai Sauramba, Keegan Meth and Nathan Waller all produced telling contributions on various occasions.
Of course, the steady upward shift in the standard of cricket in Zimbabwe will come as no surprise to those who have followed the country’s march back from the cricketing brink at close quarters, but the efficiency of the organisation and the standard of play during this tournament in particular, should serve as a sharp warning to the rest of the cricketing community of the dangers that Zimbabwe, as a Test nation, may pose in a decade’s time.
Of the county cricketers that were involved in the event – some of which, like Paul Horton and Adam Wheater, have long-term contracts with some of the franchises, bringing into question the ECB’s reluctance to send a team to the country because of security issues – it was Somerset all-rounder Peter Trego who was the most impressive, as he was named Player of the Tournament following his haul of 166 runs and nine wickets from his seven matches for the Mashonaland Eagles.
A full list of the county players involved in the event can be found on page two.