Southern Africa’s golden cricket summer: The global superstars are coming to town

Robson Sharuko

Harare – Chris gayle, Marlon Samuels, Jason Holder, Shai Hope, Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, the explosive Hardik Pandya, the rock star Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandrian Ashwin, Dwayne Bravo, Lasith Malinga, Brendon McCullum, Kevin Pietersen, Steve Smith and David Warner are coming to town in a cricket season like no other in Southern Africa.

The superstars of world cricket will either be in Zimbabwe or South Africa in a landmark cricket summer season in which the region will play host to some of the best players ever to play the game in its history. Cricket fans will be spoilt for choice across the Limpopo in an explosive season that will begin with the West Indies touching down in Zimbabwe this month and then close with the Australians battling it out with the Proteas in South Africa.

In between, the All-Star Indians will also be in South Africa and international cricket stars, including returning former Zimbabwean skipper Brendan Taylor, will converge in South Africa for the inaugural T20 Global Dimension League. “Zimbabwe will play West Indies in two Test matches scheduled to start later this month,’’ Zimbabwe Cricket spokesperson Darlington Majonga said in a statement. “Both matches will be played at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo.

“The first Test is penciled for 21-25 October while the second one is set for 29 October to 2 November. “Before the series starts, West Indies – expected to arrive in the country on 11 October – will face Zimbabwe A in a three-day practice match beginning on 15 October at Bulawayo Athletic Club.’’

The West Indies tour will not feature any limited overs contests and, for Zimbabwean batsman Hamilton Masakadza, the arrival of the men from the Caribbean will certainly bring back a flood of memories of his first adventure into the Test cricket arena in July 2001. Back then, the right-handed batsman, who is still growing strong 16 years after making his debut, made history when, at the age of 17 years 354 days, he became the youngest player to score a century on his Test debut.

The West Indies provided the opposition that day at Harare Sports Club when Masakadza powered his way to 119 runs in the second innings of that Test for his history-making innings that propelled him into global prominence. However, two months later, Bangladesh cricketer Mohammad Ashraful broke that record when he became the youngest player to score a Test century after scoring 114 runs in the match against Sri Lanka.

Masakadza had shown his potential as a 16-year-old Churchill High Schoolboy when he became the first black Zimbabwean to score a first class century. The West Indies are coming from a tour of England where explosive opener Gayle, who scored a double hundred against Zimbabwe at the last World Cup in Canberra, Australia, in February 2015, and in the process becoming the first player to hit a double century at the showcase event, was rehabilitated back into the team.

Gayle hit 16 sixes in that innings to eclipse the previous World Cup record that was held by South Africa’s Gary Kirsten who scored 188 not out in the Proteas match against the United Arab Emirates in 1966 and was eventually out for 215 in 147 balls.

Interestingly, the West Indies power hitter should have been dismissed from the very first ball he faced when he swung and missed a delivery from Tinashe Panyangara only for the on-field umpire to give him the benefit of doubt even though television replays showed the ball would have clipped the top of the bails.

His compatriot Samuels also joined in the run feast as he piled an unbeaten 133 off 156 balls in that match. Gayle is also expected to take part in the T20 Global Destination League in South Africa whose other international marquee players are set to include Dwayne Bravo (West Indies), Malinga (Sri Lanka), McCullum (New Zealand), Eoin Morgan (England), Pietersen (England), Pollard (West Indies) and Jason Roy (England). “I look forward to returning to South Africa as I have very happy memories of my time there,’’ Gayle said in a statement released by the organisers.

“This included scoring the first ever century in T20 International cricket when the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 was held in South Africa in 2007.” Pietersen also expressed his delight at playing in the tournament. “I am delighted to have signed for the new Global Destination T20 tournament in South Africa,’’ he said. “South Africa, as everyone knows, is very close to my heart. So being a part of something innovative in their cricketing structure really excites me. “I am sure the public will support this wonderful creation which will showcase a lot of the world’s best players.”

Former New Zealand star McCullum said it was an honour to be part of the cast of superstar players set to grace the South African cricket fields. “I very much enjoy the conditions in South Africa and it was an easy decision to make myself available for this tournament,’’ he said. “I enjoy the way South Africans play the game and the way their fans interact with the players as well.”

Of course, then there is the magical Indian skipper Virat Kohli who is expected to lead his side for three Test matches against the South Africans in South Africa this summer which will be played in Cape Town, Centurion and Johannesburg. When India defeated Australia in the first ODI by 26 runs in Chennai, Kohli surpassed MS Dhoni’s record of leading India to 10 consecutive victories across all formats of the game – T20, ODIs and Test.

His unbeaten 103 in the first Test against Sri Lanka in July saw the 28-year-old becoming the batsman fastest to score 10 Test centuries as India’s captain, taking just 44 innings to get to the landmark. He also became the first Indian skipper to score a double century in 84 years, when he blasted his maiden double hundred in West Indies last year and he went on to score a double century in the next three Test series.

October 2017
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