The much-awaited Stanbic Twenty20 (T20) cricket series roars into life today with last year’s losing finalists, MidWest Rhinos, facing off against Mountaineers in the opening match at Harare Sports Club.
The match starts this morning at 10am and will followed by another potentially titanic battle between rivals Mashonaland Eagles — defending champions — and Matabeleland Tuskers.
Mountaineers will be hoping that Australian left-arm fast bowler Dirk Nannes, an accomplished T20 specialist, fires from all cylinders.
Nannes together with Shingi Masakadza and Tendai Chatara make up the bowling arsenal of the Mutare-based franchise.
He will be hoping to take advantage of the pitch condition which is expected to favour seamers.
Mountaineers won the inaugural edition of the tournament, but meekly surrendered their title after a dismal performance in the previous edition.
If they are to mount a challenge this time around then some of their senior players — like Tino Mawoyo, Prosper Utseya and new signings Phil Mustard and Ned Eckersley — will have to come to the party.
Brendan Taylor-captained MidWest Rhinos are a dark horse in this tournament, having signed speed merchant Shaun Tait while managing to retain Rikki Wessels and Lou Vincent.
After losing out in last year’s finals, Jason Gillespie’s men will be hoping to take it up a notch this year.
The Kwekwe-based franchise received a huge boost following the return to full fitness of leg-spinner Graeme Cremer who has been on the sidelines since July after undergoing surgery to his knee.
Fireworks are expected in the second match between Tuskers and Eagles as it not only features the pre-tournament favourites, but also the hard-hitting former West Indies captain Chris Gayle who will feature for Tuskers.
Gayle is one of 16 foreign players who are taking part in the 10-day tournament. He said he hoped his maiden appearance in the country would be one to remember.
“It’s my first time in this tournament, so as a player I want to make an impact. I’ve done well around the world and I want to give the spectators something to cheer about,” said Gayle.
Tuskers, who also have the explosive Charles Coventry in their ranks, boast of one the strongest teams in the tournament on paper and Dave Houghton will be hoping they click into a formidable force.
While the focus of attention has been on Gayle, Tuskers have a lot of potential match-winners in Paul Horton, Keith Dabengwa, Glen Querl and Steve Trenchard and Eagles could lose the plot if they place too much attention on Gayle.
Eagles — who will attempt to become the first team to defend their title — have a decent team with players such as T20 specialist Ryan Ten Doeschate, Sikandar Raza Butt and Peter Trego.
No doubt the Eagles’ bowling trio of Kyle Jarvis, Andrew Hall and veteran spinner Ray Price would want to get rid of the devastating Gayle early as they are aware of how influential he can be in any attack once he gets into his groove.