Harare Sports Club will play host to its most illustrious gathering of cricket talent for more than a decade in August, as South Africa and Australia arrive with strong squads for a month of action against a struggling Zimbabwe side.
South Africa will play a one-off Test against Zimbabwe at HSC from August 9 that will see Hashim Amla take charge of just his third Test since taking over the captaincy from the long-serving Graeme Smith, before the two teams travel down to Bulawayo for a three-match one-day international series.
Then, on August 25, Zimbabwe take on Australia in the first game of a triangular series at HSC in which the three teams will play each other twice before the top two sides contest the final on September 6.
While Zimbabwe has hosted the likes of India and Sri Lanka for tri-series in recent years, the tourists left high-profile players such as Sachin Tendulkar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Kumar Sangakkara at home.
However that will not be the case this time around, with Australia bringing a full-strength squad as they begin their preparations for next year’s ICC World Cup. Aggressive opening batsman David Warner is the only player to have withdrawn from the Australian squad, in order to be present for the birth of his first child.
South Africa are equally focused on maximising their World Cup preparations, with their tour of Zimbabwe forming part of a busy run-in to the tournament in February and March.
Having won an ODI series in Sri Lanka for the first time in their history last month, the Proteas are in an excellent space but will hope that legendary all-rounder Jacques Kallis can return to form in Zimbabwe.
Kallis retired from Test cricket in December and has set his sights on winning the one thing that has thus far eluded him throughout a 19-year international career: a major ICC trophy. However the 38-year-old scored just five runs in three ODIs in Sri Lanka, leading many to question whether he has lost his touch.
Not since Zimbabwe co-hosted the 2003 World Cup have so many players of such a high calibre graced the fields of Harare Sports Club.
This, however, means that the Zimbabwe team will face their toughest opposition for several years at a time when they are poorly prepared and equipped – and have suffered the embarrassment of drawing a one-day international series with Afghanistan.
The series against Afghanistan was designed to give Zimbabwe a relatively light warm-up for the more serious assignments that follow, but instead saw them sink to a new low as they lost the last two games to draw 2-2 against a team that only attained ODI status last year.
Financial mismanagement at Zimbabwe Cricket has contributed to disastrous levels of debt that have crippled the game at both domestic and international level, with the result that Zimbabwe have not played a Test match in almost a year.
“It’s a really tough task, but obviously everyone is keen to play against the top sides in the world because we want to try and prove a point,” Zimbabwe’s National Director of Coaching Andrew Waller told Harare News.
“Being underdogs, we’ve got nothing to lose and I’m hoping that will allow the guys to go out and play their natural games.
“When I watched South Africa’s games against Sri Lanka I thought that there’s no reason why we can’t cause an upset in one or two of the games, which would be nice because the guys have been practising bloody hard.”
Photo: Jekesai Njikizana