The third edition of the Stanbic Twenty (T20) series might have been the least attended by fans, but it certainly lived up to its billing in a manner befitting this form of the game.
On Sunday Harare Sports Club was not full to the brim when Mountaineers beat Mashonaland Eagles by 27 runs in the final as was the case in the last two editions.
However, no one can doubt the passion with which fans supported their teams, showing the 20-over format has grown significantly in stature in the country.
Spiced up with foreign stars like Chris Gayle, Dirk Nannes and Peter Trego among others, the star-studded 10-day event kept fans asking for more while exciting new talent which came to the fore also gave the nation hope of a bright future.
Youngsters like unheralded MidWest Rhinos seamer Richard Mazhange, Nathan Waller, Kevin Kasuza and Kudzai Sauramba all showed a lot of potential in their debut appearances at the highest stage in domestic cricket.
Mazhange in particular was impressive with his accurate medium pacers, momentarily overshadowing his more decorated teammate Shaun Tait, who had a disappointing outing by his high standards.
Having got off to a slow start, the tournament picked up as the stakes got higher with the likes of Gayle, Dutchman Ryan ten Doeschate, Brendan Taylor, Stuart Matsikenyeri and Gary Balance piling on the runs to the excitement of fans.
Gayle would go on to finish as the tournament’s highest run scorer with 293 runs from six matches at an impressive average of 58 runs, although his team could not make it to the final.
In the tournament’s short history, no pre-tournament favourites have managed go all the way to win it while no team has managed to defend that same title.
This proved true to pre-tournament favourites Tuskers and defending champions Eagles.
Tuskers went into the tournament boasting one of the strongest teams on paper and odds-on favorites to lift the coveted title, while Eagles were hoping to utilise home advantage to defend their crown.
In the end, it was the then less- fancied former champions Mountaineers who proved to be the dark horse of the tournament.
What made Mountaineers’ victory sweeter — even for the neutral — was how the team had a unique fusion of overseas stars, young players and national team players.
Very few people knew about Kasuza and Sauramba, both still just 18 and 19 years of age respectively.
The youngsters are part of the Zimbabwe Under-19 team, but during the tournament they got a rare opportunity of playing alongside their coach, former Black Caps all-rounder Chris Harris.
Seamer Shingi Masakadza — who finished as the highest wicket-taker in the tournament — also showed how he has developed his game with both bat and ball after some consistent match-winning performances throughout the tourney.
Mountaineers coach Gary Brent was over the moon after his team’s victory.
“I can’t believe we have done it, but all credit to the players. They played some brilliant cricket throughout the tournament and capped it all today with a magnificent bowling performance.
“In the end our combination of youngsters, national team players and overseas professionals paid off. The guys were hungry to succeed and in the end they delivered,” said Brent.