Zim A tour rare dose of good news

HARARE - For almost four years, the Zimbabwe A side has become a bit of a white elephant so to speak, what with the national team and all it's coverage both on and off the field.

Player strikes, mudslinging and the occasional win have dominated our headlines and general conversations, and our second XI have taken a backseat because of these events.

So when it was whispered through the various corridors of media houses that our A team would be going on tour sometime this year, a lot of us felt a prickle of excitement, despite the quagmire the sport currently finds itself in.

The A side is equally as important as our Test team, and there was a time when the A side did regular duty, both home and away, and the results were beginning to reflect as young players started to make their presence known.

From the early 90s to the mid-2000s, the Zimbabwe A side probably played more four-day cricket than the national team played Test cricket.

The Zimbabwe Board XI as it was known in those days, were part of South Africa's B section first-class competition, and if you had thoughts of wrinkling your nose with disgust when hearing the words B section, I strongly advise you to think again.

The B section was the perfect breeding ground for young and wild South African fast bowlers to hone their skills, and for raw batsmen to construct and compile an innings of substance.

Senior franchise/provincial players were often found in those second XI teams, either recovering from injury, or trying to fight their way back into the top-flight of South Africa's various domestic competitions.

The Board XI, which consisted of young players and fringe players, played on a weekly basis and toughened up both mentally, physically and technically, which meant that their transition to Test cricket wasn't as hard and as tough as some of our current crop of players are currently experiencing.

Zimbabwe A will be winging their way to Bangladesh on June 28, where they are set to play Bangladesh A in two four-day games, as well as three one-day matches.

ZC announced the squad on Saturday, and it would appear as if they are becoming as frustrated as the fans as they have opted for a number of very young players who had relative success at the Under-19 World Cup, but who in truth are still very green from an experience point of view.

This approach by ZC may not necessarily be a bad approach, as so many journalists and fans have been clamouring for young blood with new ideas, though to be fair, most of the clamours and concerns have been administrative related, and not player related.

Be that as it may, this in my humble opinion is a step in the right direction.

Players need to be exposed to foreign conditions before they represent the Test team, and this is a perfect opportunity for them to be tested.

A number of younger players, such as Brian Chari, Luke Jongwe, Roy Kaia and Brighton Mugochi, who are relatively unknown, will be given a chance to up their game from the tranquil surroundings of the Logan cup, to the low and slow pitches of Bangladesh, where they will be given a thorough examination of their newly found experience, after playing in the U-19 World Cup.

The Under-19s may not have been particularly impressive, but there were a few individual performances from most of the players mentioned, which forced the selectors into picking them for this all important tour.

After returning from the World Cup, some of the young guns took their newly found confidence to another level, as they knuckled down and scored hundreds in the Logan Cup as well.

The question however is this: Has the standard of first-class cricket deteriorated to such an extent that youngsters batting as low as number 10 are able to score hundreds, or have we been influenced by all the ongoing negativity surrounding ZC and the game in our country to only take negatives out of potential positives?

These answers will be revealed, but if these fears are justified, will ZC be brave enough to acknowledge that we do have a problem, or will they say that the poor performances were due to lack of match time and lack of experience, the hot and humid climate, and the change of diet?

The youngsters already mentioned, will however be relieved that their coach Walter Chavaguta, who also coached them in the U19 World Cup, and who has been to Bangladesh on several previous occasions will be in charge of the A side as well.

The team will also be bolstered by more experienced players such as Malcolm Waller, Tinotenda Mawoyo, Michael Chinouya who I personally rate as a promising fast bowler with all the tools to make him a permanent player in the test 11, and the evergreen but highly controversial Mark Vermeulen.

Although the likes of Chinouya, Timycen Maruma, Shingi Masakadza have struggled to cement their places in the test team, they have been in the system and more specifically the first class system for a number of years now, which will hopefully go a long way towards helping and encouraging the younger players.

It is also pleasing to see the return of Regis Chakabva, who scored a truck load of runs in the Logan Cup, as well as Richmond Mutumbami, although ZC's press release refers to him as Raymond Mutumbami.

Both Chakabva and Mutumbami may just be fighting for the wicketkeeper berth, while the heartthrob of many a young lady, Tinotenda Mutombodzi, will be sharing the bowling duties with the friendly all smiling Matabeleland Tusker off spinner, John Nyumbu, who finally gets some recognition after five years of perseverance.

Special mention must also go to Donald Tiripano, who like Nyumbu has been there and thereabouts for some time now, and will be hoping to slot in as a genuine all-rounder.

In all, the team is a nicely balanced team of youth and experience, which is exactly what an A team should consist of.

One only hopes that the combination will deliver positive results.

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