THE Zimbabwe cricket team yesterday began a two-week camp in preparation for the forthcoming tour of the West Indies in a welcome diversion from the political battles that have been raging in the game's boardroom.
Cricket has been in the spotlight in the past month following a controversial directive, on the appointment of selectors, from Education, Sport, Arts and Culture Minister, David Coltart, which ruffled feathers in the game.
The Zimbabwe Cricket authorities have rejected the directive.
Coach Alan Butcher, who is set to leave his job at the end of the tour of Windies, said he was concerned that the boardroom drama had taken centre stage at the expense of the team's preparations for the tour.
The Englishman will be happy that, for now, focus will turn on his players.
His assistant Steve Mangongo, whose name was dragged into the controversy as he wouldn't be qualified to be the chairman of the panel of selectors under the new directive, yesterday said all the players called for duty, apart from captain Brendan Taylor, fast bowler Kyle Jarvis and Hamilton Masakadza, are expected to get down to serious business this week.
The absent trio is expected to join the squad before their departure in a fortnight.
Jarvis is playing in New Zealand while Taylor and Masakadza are involved in the Bangladesh Premier League.
Mangongo said Zimbabwe have to put behind them the memories of a disappointing tour to New Zealand in their last tour and are eager to prove a point when they travel to the West Indies this month.
"This is an important tour, the first complete tour in almost 10 years where we have to play two Tests, three ODIs and two Twenty20 matches," said Mangongo.
"We are all looking forward to it.
"We have been fortunate enough that our guys have been playing lots of cricket of late. They are all looking fit and well-oiled.
"Everyone is keen on this tour, probably with the realisation that the last one turned out to be a woeful disaster.
"So we are not leaving anything to chance and it's an opportunity for the boys to go out there and atone for the bad performances we had in New Zealand last year."
Mangongo said it was time his players stood up to be counted.
"In fact, we haven't been lucky travellers as a team and it's time we stand up for ourselves and show that we can play against any opposition anywhere," said Mangongo.
"We are emphasising on the basics during these preparations because we are quite aware that West Indies will come bombarding us, so we need to get the batting techniques right.
"Our bowlers also need to be up to the challenge and the other thing we would want to look at seriously is our fielding.
"Zimbabwe is renowned as an excellent team when it comes to fielding but we have been performing on the average. We need to get back to the top."
Zimbabwe will begin their tour with a warm-up game on February 20 and will conclude with the Test match that is set to finish on March 24.
Mangongo said he was pleased by skipper Taylor's performances in Bangladesh where he is currently among the leading run scorers.
Taylor is turning out for Chittagong Kings and is the club's highest contributor so far with 249 runs from seven innings.
"Good players are tested by their ability to play in foreign conditions and it's good that we have one of our own doing quite well.
"In fact it's not him alone and that on its own is a big confidence booster for the guys here," said Mangongo.
Meanwhile, the domestic four-day game, the Logan Cup competition, will continue without the national team players' involvement as champions Matabeleland Tuskers and Mid West Rhinos clash in a top-of-the-table match at Queens Sports Club today.
Fast bowler Chris Mpofu, Keegan Meth and middle order batsman Craig Ervine have been called up for national team duty in the squad that is preparing for the tour of the West Indies next month.
Rhinos will also be without Vusi Sibanda, Graeme Cremer, Malcom Waller and skipper Taylor who is currently playing in the Bangladesh Premier League.
Tuskers' Charles Coventry is also playing in the Twenty20 competition as well as Sean Ervine, Mountaineers' Hamilton Masakadza and Elton Chigumbura. Tuskers' coach, Heath Streak, said he was looking forward to the match but bemoaned the unavailability of star players from both teams due to national team duty.
"We are missing two of our key players who are in camp with the national team and Rhinos are also without Vusi (Sibanda), Waller and Brendan Taylor who is in Bangladesh.
"But we are up for the task. Obviously playing at home, we are hoping to make full use of the familiar conditions to push for a positive result."
Tuskers are seeking to regain their momentum following the disappointing draw against basement side Mashonaland Eagles in their last match.
Before that the Bulawayo side had won all their four matches to sit comfortably on top of the log table.
They currently have 28 points in five outings while Rhinos are second in the race tied with Mountaineers on 21 points. Streak said Tuskers, who have won the last two editions of the tournament are looking forward to a good result that should guarantee them a place in the final.
"I think it's good pressure because if you are at the top everyone would want to knock you down. Everyone is chasing after you but our guys are enjoying their cricket and we are looking forward to defending our title," said Streak.
ODI and T20 squad: Brendan Taylor (capt),
Hamilton Masakadza, Vusi Sibanda, Tino Mawoyo, Kyle Jarvis, Tendai Chatara, Chris Mpofu, Prosper Utseya, Regis Chakabva, Malcolm Waller, Keegan Meth, Craig Ervine, Chamu Chibhabha, Tino Mutombodzi, Natsai M"shangwe
Brendan Taylor (capt), Tino Mawoyo, Vusi Sibanda, Hamilton Masakadza, Regis Chakabva, Malcolm Waller, Kyle Jarvis, Keegan Meth, Tendai Chatara, Chris Mpofu, Prosper Utseya, Sean Williams, Timycen Maruma, Raymond Price, Graeme Creme