BY Sports Reporter
ZIMBABWE Cricket (ZC) could be on the verge of normalizing its frosty relations with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) following confirmation that the country set to host two English county teams for the first time in more than two decades next month.
The local cricket governing body ZC confirmed on Thursday that two English county sides Derbyshire and Durham had accepted its invitation to tour the country as part of their pre-season preparations for the 2020 County Championship.
The last county team to officially visit Zimbabwe was Worcestershire in March-April 1997.
“For the first time in more than two decades, Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) will host not just one but two English county teams in March. Having accepted ZC’s invitation, Derbyshire and Durham will play across three formats in matches against local select opposition in Bulawayo and Harare respectively,” ZC said in a statement.
“Led by former Zimbabwe captain and coach Dave Houghton who is their head of cricket, Derbyshire will be touring the country for the first time and will face a Zimbabwe Select side in two T20 matches, two 50-over games and two three-day fixtures at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo. Durham, who toured Zimbabwe in the 1991/92 season, will play two three-day matches versus the Chairman’s XI at Harare Sports Club in the capital,” read the statement.
ZC director of cricket Hamilton Masakadza hailed the county tours as a massive boost for the game in Zimbabwe.
“We are thrilled to be hosting Derbyshire and Durham. The magnitude and importance of their visit cannot be overemphasized,” he said.
“While our players will learn big lessons and gain invaluable experience from playing against such top opposition, we believe this marks the beginning of a new chapter that will hopefully see more English county teams touring Zimbabwe as that will go a long way in preparing our players for the rigours of high-level and international cricket.”
The tours by the English county sides could be the first step for ZC and the ECB to reengage after they fell out at the turn of the millennium.
ECB cut ties with Zimbabwe in 2008 following advice from the UK government after political unrest in Zimbabwe under the regime led by the late former President Robert Mugabe caused problems for the England team throughout the 2000s.
England boycotted their fixture against Zimbabwe in Harare at the 2003 World Cup and, later that year, anti-Mugabe protesters were arrested for invading the pitch during a Test between the two sides at Lord’s.
England did travel to Zimbabwe for a one-day international series in 2004, but were under pressure to cancel Zimbabwe’s 2009 tour of England before the government intervened in June 2008 to suspend cricketing ties.
Zimbabwe then withdrew from 2009’s England-hosted ICC World Twenty20. While they have featured in the same ICC global events since then – without meeting directly – the sides have not played against each other since 2007.
Meanwhile England could resume touring arrangements with Zimbabwe as part of the International Cricket Council’s new Test and one-day international leagues.
The English side does not have any matches scheduled against Zimbabwe, but there is a scenario that could see fixtures arranged, most likely as part of the ICC’s new 13-team ODI league, which will begin next year.
Zimbabwe Select versus Derbyshire:
14 March 2020 1st T20 Queens Sports Club
15 March 2020 2nd T20 Queens Sports Club
17 March 2020 1st One-Dayer Queens Sports Club
19 March 2020 2nd One-Dayer Queens Sports Club
21-23 March 2020 1st Three-Dayer Queens Sports Club
25-27 March 2020 2nd Three-Dayer Queens Sports Club
Chairman’s XI versus Durham:
19-21 March 2020 1st Three-Dayer Harare Sports Club
25-27 March 2020 2nd Three-Dayer Harare Sports Club