FOR the first time in 23 years, two English county cricket teams — Derbyshire and Durham — will visit Zimbabwe on a tour pregnant with political weight, amid an aggressive international re-engagement drive by this country’s leadership.
The last English county to tour Zimbabwe was Worcestershire in March-April 1997.
Derbyshire, whose head of cricket is former Zimbabwe captain and coach, Houghton, will be making its maiden tour of this country, next month, while Durham will be making its second visit.
Durham last toured Zimbabwe in 1991/1992.
The last visit to Zimbabwe by the England national cricket team was in November and December 2004 for four One Day Internationals (ODIs) in Bulawayo and Harare.
Since then, cricket relations between the two countries had been strained by political differences and English cricketers were repeatedly forced by their Government not to tour Zimbabwe.
The impasse first emerged when England forfeited its 2003 World Cup match against Zimbabwe in Harare and, a few years later, the then Zimbabwe Cricket chairman, Peter Chingoka, was handed an EU travel ban.
“For the first time in more than two decades, Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) will host not just one but two English county teams in March,’’ Zimbabwe Cricket confirmed in a statement.
“Having accepted ZC’s invitation, Derbyshire and Durham will play across three formats in matches against local select opposition in Bulawayo and Harare, respectively.
“The last county team to officially visit Zimbabwe was Worcestershire in March-April 1997.
“Led by former Zimbabwe captain and coach Dave Houghton who is their head of cricket, Derbyshire will be touring the country for the first time and will face a Zimbabwe Select side in two T20 matches, two 50-over games and two three-day fixtures at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo.
“Durham, who toured Zimbabwe in the 1991/92 season, will play two three-day matches versus the Chairman’s XI at Harare Sports Club in the capital.’’
Zimbabwe Cricket director of cricket, Hamilton Masakadza, said the tour by the two English county cricket sides would be a huge boost for the game in this country.
“We are thrilled to be hosting Derbyshire and Durham. The magnitude and importance of their visit cannot be over-emphasised,” he said.
“While our players will learn big lessons and gain invaluable experience from playing against such top opposition, we believe this marks the beginning of a new chapter that will hopefully see more English county teams touring Zimbabwe as that will go a long way in preparing our players for the rigours of high-level and international cricket.”
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