BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
ZIMBABWE has stepped up preparations for the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Qualifier in July, with the select Zimbabwe XI facing South Africa A in a five-match T20 series starting at Harare Sports Club today while its A side is taking on Nepal in another T20 series which started yesterday.
The Zimbabwe A kickstarted their tour of Nepal by cruising to a convincing six-wicket victory in the opening match at Kirtipur Cricket Stadium in Kathmandu.
After winning the toss and electing to field, Zimbabwe’s bowlers struggled to contain the Nepal batsmen in their own conditions as the hosts reached a competitive 185 for five in their allotted 50 overs.
In reply, Zimbabwe A put on an explosive performance with the bat to reach 182 for four in 18.5 overs and comfortably win the first match with seven balls to spare
Skipper Tony Munyonga was named the man of the match after blasting seven big sixes on his way to a quickfire 50 off 17 deliveries as he continues to put his hand up for possible elevation to the full national side.
There were some encouraging signs at the top of the batting line-up, a department which has been of concern for Zimbabwe over the last few years since the retirement of stalwarts Hamilton Masakadza and Brendan Taylor.
In addition to Munyonga’s exploits, Tadiwanashe Marumani top-scored with 56 off 41 deliveries, while opener Innocent Kaia reached 47 off 30 balls.
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The trio will be eager to continue their good form as Zimbabwe A aim to seal the three-match series with a match to spare in the second encounter at the same venue today.
The T20 series will be followed by the three-match one-day international (ODI) series scheduled for May 6, 7 and 9.
Back home, the Zimbabwe XI side will be seeking a winning start when they take on a strong South Africa A in the first T20 encounter at Harare Sports Club today.
The South Africa A features over seven regular players for the Proteas, such as captain Heinrich Klaasen, Andile Phelukwayo, Reeza Hendricks, among others, which should give Zimbabwe XI players a real test ahead of their upcoming matches.
After losing the ODI series 2-1, Zimbabwe has a chance to return to winning ways in the five-match T20 series which will give the hosts an opportunity to prepare for the ICC T20 World Cup qualifier in July.
Young stars Milton Shumba and Wesley Madhevere have been regular members of the Zimbabwe side in the shortest format of the game and will look to hit their stride in the T20 format after some mixed fortunes in the ODI series.
Zimbabwe XI will also look up to their experienced skipper Sikandar Raza, who is a valuable asset in T20 cricket due to his all-around abilities.
After missing out on the ODI series, batting all-rounder Ryan Burl is likely to get a chance in the T20 series, giving him an opportunity to build some momentum ahead of a busy winter schedule leading up to the T20 World Cup qualifier.
After the T20 series against South Africa A, the Zimbabwe men’s cricket side will also play Namibia next month in five T20 matches in Bulawayo as part of their build-up.
Their biggest test will come in June when they host Afghanistan in a three-match ODI series which forms part of the Super League and T20 matches which will again help in preparating for the T20 World Cup Qualifiers being hosted by Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe will host the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Qualifier Group B matches from July 8 to 18.
The Chevrons will battle it out for the two World Cup spots with Jersey, Netherlands, Uganda, Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong and Singapore.
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