EDITORIAL COMMENT: Cricket playing a big part in sports tourism English County side Durham playing Zimbabwe A at Harare Sports Club

IN a big endorsement for sports tourism in Zimbabwe, prominent English County cricket side Durham are in the country for their 2024 pre-season tour.

The tourists have excitedly returned to Zimbabwe after their experience from a very successful tour at roughly the same period last year.

Zimbabwe Cricket have played probably the biggest role, by sporting associations, in promoting sports tourism by successfully bidding and hosting matches.

The biggest achievement over the past year was the final qualifiers for the ICC Men’s cricket World Cup in Harare and Bulawayo in a tournament that attracted big names from the West Indies and Sri Lanka together with the competitive Associate member countries.

Zimbabwe’s matches at both Harare Sports Club and Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo attracted full houses with the game against the West Indies in the capital becoming the first ever cricket match to have gates closed after being filled by mid-morning.

TV screens were then installed at a nearby rugby field for the stranded fans to watch the game from there.

The whole tournament was a huge success and revived interest in the game, prompting a serious look into expanding the sitting capacity at Harare Sports Club while upgrading other facilities across the country ahead of future tours.

Zimbabwe Cricket also hosted the Ireland national teams, both male and female, for white-ball tours in December and February respectively.

And now we have the return of Durham.

In March of 2020, Durham had also visited Zimbabwe together with Derbyshire but that tour had to be cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

When Durham came last year, they were together with another English county side Glamorgan who were returning to Zimbabwe for the first time since 1995.

For this year’s tour, the Durham squad will be based in Harare for three weeks in a stay that will include limited overs cricket and two three-day games against Zimbabwe A, whose opener started on Thursday.

They will also participate in a domestic T20 tournament. Apart from the matches, Durham are also using the tour for warm weather training with Harare temperatures hovering around 30 degrees for much of their stay.

Ahead of their departure from England, the Durham director of cricket, Marcus North, said their players and staff will gain valuable experience along with match preparation against quality opposition leading into their (English) summer.

“As our successful winter training is coming to a close this tour will provide fantastic preparation for the lads.

“The opportunity to feature in Zimbabwe’s domestic tournament is also really exciting, this will provide the whole squad with some good quality Vitality Blast T20 match practice which we wouldn’t be able to replicate back in Durham,” he said.

In acknowledging Zimbabwe Cricket’s role in this tour, North said:

“We have built up a strong relationship with Cricket Zimbabwe and this trip enables us to further work alongside an international governing body, we are very thankful to Cricket Zimbabwe for their support on this tour.”

This is a major success on the part of Zimbabwe Cricket as such tours go a long way in exposing local cricketers, especially the young and upcoming players, to a different level of intense cricket which is not being offered locally at the moment.

Already the opening three-day match lasted just two days with Durham winning by nine wickets at Harare Sports Club yesterday yet at close of play on Thursday the game had looked evenly balanced.

The familiar problems returned to haunt the Zimbabwean side. The biggest and consistent problem has been with the bat and Zimbabwe A failed to reach 200 runs in both innings.

Batting was a disaster for the national Under-19 team at the 2024 ICC Men’s World Cup in South Africa where they finished 12th out of 16 teams after managing just one win against lowly Namibia while struggling to reach 100 runs as a team.

Even with the Lady Chevrons against Ireland, the batting was largely to blame for the series defeats in both the one-day internationals and the T20 internationals.

The Lady Chevrons can however, argue they had to field inexperienced players due to injuries in a series they unveiled two 15-year-olds.

The second problem highlighted in the defeat to Durham yesterday was the failure to finish off opponents. Durham were reduced to 153/6 in their first innings but allowed to add another 152 for the remaining four low-order wickets.

In the end they conceded 110-run first innings deficit, leading to the eventual nine-wicket defeat inside two days.

That these problems are affecting virtually all of Zimbabwe’s representative teams is a cause for concern.

It is therefore pleasing to note that Zimbabwe Cricket were this week conducting a three-day high performance programme for Under-25s at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo.

Renowned development coach Steve Mangongo was in attendance, saying that it is important to nurture and develop the country’s next generation of stars.

He was impressed with the way things fared and believes that the group of players that participated will go on to make it big when they transition into the first team set-up in the years to come.

The high performance programme was also being used to select a team that will represent Zimbabwe at the upcoming 2024 All Africa Games in Ghana early next month. This year’s games will be the first to feature cricket.

It is our hope these efforts will help strengthen the national cricket teams so that efforts on the field of play match the efforts off the field where the game is doing a lot towards sports tourism.

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