Harare — ZIMBABWE Cricket took a massive leap forward, in its battle to bury a past littered with chaos and embrace a future pregnant with promise, when it unveiled its Stanbic Twenty20 tournament -- which promises a galaxy of fireworks for the fans -- at Harare Sports Club yesterday.
The function, held at the home of domestic cricket, was a throwback to the era when the game was in good health and attracted the international media, a number of prominent figures who drove that quest for greatness on the field and, crucially, the sponsors whose funding is key in the journey back from the darkness.
The presence of former national team players, Alistair Campbell and Dirk Viljoen, in key technical positions at the top table during the launch, was another sign of the domestic game's movement from a past that has been marred by racial divisions into a future where the interests of the game override everything else.
The tournament gets underway tomorrow.
Held in the Chairman's Pavillion, overlooking the lush surface of a Harare Sports Club in prime shape and waiting for the arrival of the razzmatazz of the Twenty20 bandwagon, the official launch of the Stanbic Twenty20 tournament was another spectacular coup for Zimbabwe Cricket in its drive to breathe life into a game slowly coming out of the woods.
The Stanbic Twenty20 matches will be screened on pay-per-view television channel SuperSport in another big vote of confidence in a domestic game slowly showing signs that it is not only returning to normalcy, but appears ready for the big step back into the big time.
A battery of sponsors, led by Stanbic who are the title sponsors, were also on hand to throw their full weight behind the tournament at yesterday's launch as cricket once again demonstrated its magnetism as an irresistible force when it comes to corporate partnerships.
Econet Wireless will be the platinum sponsors of the tournament, Innscor Franchising will be the golden sponsors while Delta Beverages -- through their Coca-Cola and Castle Lager brands -- will be the silver sponsors.
Nissan Zimbabwe, RAM Petroleum and Africa Steel are the other silver sponsors.
Crucially, a former Australian star -- who was named as one of the five Wisden Cricketers of the Year in 2004 -- also graced the occasion, as coach of the Southern Rocks franchise, in a massive vote of confidence in the domestic game that should be felt throughout the cricket world.
Ian Harvey, a 37-year-old Aussie resident in England, was a fine all-rounder who played 73 ODIs for his country, making his debut against South Africa in 1997 and playing his last match against Zimbabwe on May 29 2004, renowned for his big hitting in the lower order who also possessed one of the best slower balls in the business.
Dubbed "The Great Man," Harvey played for Gloucestershire in England from 1999 to 2003, his brilliance as a one-day specialist helping his side to a remarkable period of success, before he took his talents to Derbyshire and Yorkshire and Nashua Western Province in South Africa where he also coached and was a commentator.
The arrival of Twenty20 cricket was just what the doctor ordered for Harvey and he became the first player to score a first century in this format of limited overs cricket in 2003 and boasts of three Twenty20 centuries in a career that saw him play for the Hampshire Hawks and Northampton Steelers in England and the Chennai Superstars in the Indian Cricket League.
Harvey won the inaugural Indian Cricket League championship with the Chennai Superstars, just three years ago and was voted the final's most valuable player and also won the player of the tournament award.
The Aussie cricketer said it was an easy decision for him to come and play a part in Zimbabwe Cricket, despite all the challenges that the game has faced in this country and joked that the sunny conditions, as opposed to the winter in England, was also a factor.
"I have been residing in England and you know how the weather is there right now," joked Harvey.
"When the call came for me to come and play a part and, after talking to Alistair (Campbell) and other guys, I thought it was a great opportunity and it's enjoyable to be back here."
Also significant -- in terms of the ZC's charm offensive to convince the world that it not only has a product that can be trusted to move back into the Test arena but it has created a conducive environment for cricketers to develop their game -- was the presence of former England paceman Chris Silverwood.
Silverwood, who turns 35 on March 5, made his England Test and ODI debut against Zimbabwe in December 1996, as a fiery right-arm fast medium bowler with a lively outswinger and a hostile bouncer who was even rated as faster, though not as good or consistent as, legendary South African bowler Allan Donald.
Known as Chubby, Spoons or Silvers, he spent 13 years at English county side Yorkshire, his last Test cap for his country came in 2002 and he will coach the Harare-based franchise Mash Eagles, which will be captain by the big hitting Elton Chigumbura.
"It wasn't a difficult decision to make because I have always enjoyed it here and this is the place where I made my Test debut," said Silverwood.
Five domestic franchises -- Mash Eagles, Mountaineers, Southern Rocks, Tuskers and MidWest Rhinos will join invited guests, Namibia -- in the battle for the big prize that carries a US$35 000 cheque for the team that emerges victorious over the nine days of the competition.
Zimbabwe Cricket managing director Ozias Bvute, whose charm offensive has been credited with bringing in some of the old hands back into the system and giving the game a value that can now attract overseas professionals, sad his board was honoured to be leading this venture.
"It is my great pleasure to welcome you all to the inaugural Stanbic Bank Twenty20 Series. All of us in Zimbabwe Cricket are honoured to have the players and technical staff of the six participating sides -- Eagles, Mid-West Rhinos, Mountaineers, Southern Rocks, Tuskers and -- to add international flavour to the proceedings - the Vipers of Namibia, for whom a special warm and hearty Zimbabwe welcome is due," said Bvute.
"The advent of Twenty20 cricket revolutionised the game. We accepted that and launched the game locally from our development platform, which rests on the three pillars of spreading, sustaining and improving cricket.
"Since then, we have benefited from the immense popularity of the game whose short, sharp format makes it easily consumable and so the ideal vehicle to spread cricket into new markets, making it for us in Zimbabwe a truly national sport, and worldwide, a truly global sport.
"We have benefited too from the immense popularity of the game whose short, sharp format appeals to the young generation which is otherwise besieged by a variety of other competing products from the sport and entertainment industry.
"But throughout, we have remained cognisant of the challenge facing world cricket; which is to forge a balance between the Test, One-Day International and Twenty20 formats of the game. Thus, ZC continues with its groundwork to prepare for our resumption of Test participation so that we can start to fulfil all our obligations to the Future Tours Programme, as befits our stature as a Full Member of the ICC."
Bvute paid tribute to everyone involved in the tournament.
"May I now thank everyone involved in one way or another in making this tournament the success we are sure it will be. Thank you very much Stanbic Bank for being the title sponsors. Thank you too to the other sponsors: Econet Wireless, Chicken Inn, Pizza Inn, Creamy Inn, Baker's Inn, Castle, Coca Cola, Africa Steel, Nissan and Ram Petroleum," he said.
"Our appreciation is also due to the personnel at Harare Sports Club for their work in preparing for the tour. And last, but not least, Dominus Sport, thank you very much for putting it all together.
"Finally, good luck to all the six captains. We at ZC cannot wait for the play to begin so that we can see you and your teams in action. May all the matches be tight contests played in the true spirit of cricket."
Econet Wireless said they were excited to be part of the project.
"We are excited by our involvement in the 20/20 series. Our involvement shows our commitment to the development of sport in Zimbabwe. We are sure the tournament will be a great success and wish the teams participating in the tournament all the best," said the company in a statement.
Innscor Franchising Zimbabwe spoke of their pride to be part of the event.
"The introduction of Twenty20 cricket into Zimbabwe is certainly a hugely exciting occasion," said the company.
"Innscor Franchising Zimbabwe is immensely proud to be a part of this grand event and look forward to future involvement in the years to come. The Twenty20 will provide us with a superb branding platform to showcase our new look Chicken Inn, Pizza Inn, Creamy Inn and Bakers Inn brands.
"These great brands will furthermore provide all catering to the public for the duration of the tournament."
RAM Petroleum said they were happy to invest in the game's development.
"Incorporated in our vision is the objective to be responsible citizens who will endeavour to improve the well-being of the communities within which we live and operate. By investing in our up and coming sportsmen we provide an incentive for future generations, help to unite the youth of our country and make us all proud of our nation whilst having fun achieving this."
Nissan Zimbabwe has a tradition of partnering domestic cricket.
"Nissan's involvement in Zimbabwean Cricket has always been aimed at the development of the game in Zimbabwe," said the company.
"The Twenty20 format is certainly one of the most exciting formats of the game and a tournament like this has been long overdue.
"The exposure to this format at this level, and not just for the players but also the spectators, will be priceless. We believe it will go a long way in moving the sport forward and setting new bench marks. We are proud to have our brand associated with this event"