THE stage has been set for what will be the biggest cricket festival — in terms of the sheer number of countries who have come to town — to be staged in this country. While we hosted some of our World Cup games back in 2003, only a few countries in our group came to this country, with some based in South Africa and only flying here for their commitments against us.
But, now, we have nine other countries on our soil — from Papua New Guinea in the south-western Pacific just to the north of Australia, Afghanistan, Nepal and Hong Kong from Asia, the United Arab Emirates from the Gulf, the Netherlands, Ireland and Scotland from Europe and the West Indies from the Caribbean.
The countries we have here represent a cross-section of the world and, for the next three weeks, there will be a number of epic battles for the right to secure two tickets to play at the ICC Cricket World Cup in England and Wales next year.
Eight other countries — hosts England, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka — have already qualified for the global showcase next year by virtue of having been the top eight-ranked nations by the cut-off date prescribed by the International Cricket for automatic qualification for the global showcase.
Two-time World Champions, the West Indies, lead the cast of the teams here who are battling for the two tickets and while they might be favourites to get one of them, given the quality of players they have in their squad including the great Chris Gayle, while Afghanistan have greatly improved in recent years and could have a big shout in who wins one of the two tickets.
Hosts Zimbabwe have the advantage of playing before their fans and in their conditions, something which matters a lot in this game, and coach Heath Streak and his men have been telling the nation that, despite the challenges they faced on their tour of the UAE where they crashed to a 1-4 series defeat at the hands of the Afghanistan, they can rise to the occasion and qualify for the World Cup.
We wish them all the luck because they are representing all of us and we know that it’s not just about qualifying for the next World Cup but also our game reaping the huge financial benefits that come with being part of the global show which can then be invested in our junior development programmes.
The current wet conditions could also play a big part in determining the two ticket winners, which is sadly part of the game because cricket is a summer sport, and we could find some matches, which some of the giants are expected to win, being disrupted by bad weather and points could be lost along the way.
And, as shown by the warm-up matches, there won’t be any easy games in this tournament and the so-called big boys can only underrate the underdogs at their own peril which will only guarantee the excitement that fans expect from the field.
However, what is disappointing is that, once again, we note our shortcomings, as a nation, to ride on such big events when they come to our doorstep and ensure that we use them to brand our country.
For some strange reasons, we haven’t seen our tourism authorities coming on board to grab this initiative and use this tournament to sell the beauty of our country to the world, especially now when we are in a new political dispensation, and President Mnangagwa has been preaching the message that Zimbabwe is open for business.
Instead, what we are seeing are the South Africans, through SuperSport, jumping onto the bandwagon and using the tournament to sell the beauty of the Victoria Falls to the world through adverts that are being flighted on Dstv.
The South Africans want visitors from all over the world to come to their country and from there they can arrange packages for them to just fly in and visit the Victoria Falls, something which the tour companies in that nation have been doing for some years, and they are now using the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifiers to broadcast their message.
Sadly, those whom we have entrusted with selling our brand as a great tourism destination haven’t seen the opportunities that have been presented by the country hosting this tournament and having nine other nations here.
Sport and tourism should always go hand-in-hand, but here it looks like some people need to be reminded, all the time, of their responsibilities.
We didn’t see them when President Mnangagwa hosted that reception for the visiting countries when their job should have been to go to all of the guests and try and sell our brand as a premier tourism destination in the world so that, even if these players go back to their homelands, they might decide to come back here and visit.
Or, crucially, they could go and spread the message that Zimbabwe is such a wonderful country and encourage their counterparts, who are not here now, to come and pay us a visit.
In this new dispensation, we need people who are pro-active and, sadly, a golden chance to brand our country could be lost because some leaders really don’t know how to take advantage of situations when they present themselves.