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Cricket South Africa seek contests with Zimbabwe Cricket

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SA TIMES- Proteas mens sqaud and the director of cricket Mr Smith,a sweat to get the cricket going back to new normal with a first Match vs Zimbabwe,  Several countries seem set to steal a march on South Africa by putting their men’s national teams into action reasonably soon, following the global coronavirus shutdown.

England are already limbering up to tackle West Indies in a three-Test series, starting at Southampton on July 8; the tourists are safely installed in their strictly sanitised UK environment and underway with their own training sessions and practice matches.

Pakistan are also due to be follow-up visitors to those shores later in the summer, for a further three Tests and some white-ball activity against the English, despite some setbacks this week related to positive tests for the coronavirus among certain of their players.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s neighbours, Zimbabwe, appear to be soundly on track to take part in a three-match, away one-day international series against heavyweights Australia in August.

At least one of the fixtures has already been set down for Townsville (it may host them all) in Queensland, a suitably mild, more “northern” location in the southern-hemisphere country, where winter conditions would still be prevalent in most of their major cricketing centres.

It is a pleasing development for the Zimbabweans, who are desperate to play as much cricket as possible against top-tier foes as they seek to recapture some of the country’s former strength after long periods mired in domestic difficulties.

The likely series – Australia is a long way down the road to freeing itself of Covid-19 – is also good compensation for the recently-announced decision by commercial juggernauts India to cancel their scheduled away white-ball series against both Sri Lanka (initially planned for late this month) and Zimbabwe (August).

India not going to Zimbabwe also now puts in significant doubt what was expected to have been a “piggyback” venture to tackle South Africa as well, soon afterwards.

The Proteas, like most nations, have been dormant since March and run the real risk of having all their intended winter/early spring rosters aborted: already a white-ball mission to Sri Lanka (June) has been called off, and their Test tour of the Caribbean (July) is set to be pushed back to a later date.

They still await the green light to begin serious training, and a further setback to removing some cobwebs came with the kerfuffle surrounding the intended “3TC”; a three-teams-of-eight extravaganza at Centurion – this Saturday – as it failed to get approval from the government.

While unorthodox and gimmicky, it would have at least given the Proteas’ coaching and conditioning staff an idea of where their charges were at physically and mentally after the extended, still applicable lockdown.

There may be just a hint of envy among the SA squad that their more minnow neighbours appear to have a clearer picture of a return to duty, with that Aussie venture.

It will be Zimbabwe’s first strictly bilateral ODI series (there has been a previous triangular or two) against those foes Down Under, and the first locking of horns between them since 2014, when the host country won by three wickets in Harare in a triangular series also involving the Proteas.

That brought the underdogs only their second triumph over the Aussies in 29 completed ODIs between the countries, helped by a match-winning 52 not out from captain Elton Chigumbura.

Zimbabwe’s most accomplished batsman, Brendan Taylor, spoke for most of his team-mates earlier this year when he lamented (“we’ve been starved of cricket”) how little international activity they were getting.

Zimbabwe Cricket was suspended between July and October last year by the International Cricket Council after accumulating enormous debt, although they said earlier this week that they had almost returned to solvency.

Ahead of the major Australian undertaking for them, the national side are also due to entertain the emerging force of Afghanistan for a five-match Twenty20 series in around a month’s time.

But against the backdrop of Taylor’s plea, wouldn’t this perhaps be a good time for Cricket South Africa to explore reviving cross-border cricketing links, and arranging some multi-format internationals between the southern African outfits in the spring?

While any series between the two nations is never going to be a significant money-spinner, matches in the next few weeks/months would probably be played behind closed doors anyway, but with television the critical component – and likely to welcomed everywhere, frankly, on the presently cricket-starved planet.

Zimbabwe just seem the best-suited country from a logistical and geographical point of view to provide short- to medium-term opposition to the Proteas, given the complex circumstances the game finds itself in this year.

Aided by governmental cooperation (which should not prove too problematic?) on both sides, groundwork could feasibly be done to make bilateral combat possible in a few weeks’ time, particularly if lockdowns continue to be gradually eased.

They could potentially tackle each other at a central location, not even necessarily involving snags over the closed international airspace caused by the pandemic, as other forms of transport could feasibly be used to ferry the players either way across the border.

Any quarantining needs, too, might be easier to facilitate than if, say, more faraway India with their notoriously crammed, busy schedules were one of the teams involved.

The Proteas could get very useful miles in their legs if they played, for example, a handful of both ODI and T20 matches against the Zimbabweans, plus perhaps a Test match: South Africa had only four home five-dayers (all against England) in 2019/20, and their Test roster looking immediately ahead isn’t exactly heaving, either.

Zimbabwe would likelier, of course, give Quinton de Kock and company a better run for their money in the more condensed formats, but a Test would not be entirely devoid of appeal.

They last played each other at that level in the pioneering, maiden SA-hosted day/night Test match at St George’s Park in December 2017, when South Africa won by innings in only two days in fairly challenging dusk and night-time conditions for batsmen from both teams.

After the embarrassment around the “3TC” project, South African enthusiasts and players alike would be gratified to know that some more conventional, international cricket might not be too far around the corner.