Despite losing two of their stalwarts, Mountaineers will be looking to lift the Logan Cup for a historic fourth time in a row as the first-class competition gets Zimbabwe’s 2019/20 domestic season underway on Thursday this week.
The defending champions will face Tuskers in the season-opener scheduled for 12-15 December at Old Hararians Sports Club in the capital, while at the same time Eagles will be taking on Rhinos at Harare Sports Club.
A fifth side, Rangers, from the Alistair Campbell High-Performance Programme, has been added to the premier provincial competitions, but they will only make their Logan Cup bow next week.
Having completely dominated the four-day competition for the past three seasons, Mountaineers will once again start as favourites for the coveted silverware.
“We have done well over the last three seasons and we will definitely be the team to beat,” Mountaineers coach Shepherd Makunura said.
“We would obviously love to make it four out of four, but we are wary of competition from the other sides.”
But having lost veteran batsmen Hamilton Masakadza and Forster Mutizwa, who both recently retired, will the defending champions cope without the duo?
“It’s never easy to replace such big players like Hamilton and Forster who have played a pivotal role for us over the years, but it’s time for the other players raise their hands and stand up and be counted,” Makunura said.
“I believe we can still retain the trophy with efforts from all the other players. We still have the likes of Timycen Maruma, Roy Kaia, Kevin Kasuza, Tendai Chatara and Donald Tiripano, just to name a few.”
Mountaineers lost their first Logan Cup match last year – which was to be their only defeat in the competition – but this time around Makunura is looking to start off with a bang.
“It’s always important to get off to a winning start and that way you do not put pressure on yourselves too early on in the season. So we hope to get off to a good start,” he said.
Their opponents this week, Tuskers, did not have a great campaign last season, failing to win any of their Logan Cup matches, but they will be looking to bounce back and challenge for the title.
“We started off slowly in our Logan Cup campaign last season but by the end, we were moving in the right direction, which was positive. Another round of matches would have seen us recording some wins,” Tuskers coach Douglas Hondo said.
“We will hopefully get out of the blocks quicker this season. It’s is a new season and a new beginning, so we will take all the positives from last season and use them as our driving force.
“We have most of our seasoned campaigners available at the start this time around and we have also made a few additions to our roster, so that should boost our drive.”
Eagles began last season as strong contenders for all the domestic titles, but they must have been disappointed to finish a distant third in the Logan Cup competition.
“Indeed, not a finish we would have liked, especially considering the talent we possessed in our squad,” Eagles coach Stuart Matsikenyeri said.
“So we have looked at a few things tactically and personnel-wise that can help us improve on our red-ball results. Executing the plans will be most important.”
Matsikenyeri is hoping to get their campaign off to a bright start, as they take on a Rhinos side that will no longer have the services of a number of seasoned players.
“We would obviously like to replicate the start we had last season, on a winning note, so it will take a lot of hard work,” he said.
“More importantly, no matter how we start, improving on that performance is going to be key.”
Although they are yet to win any domestic title, Rhinos have always had the strongest squad on paper, boasting the likes of Brendan Taylor, Kyle Jarvis and Graeme Cremer over the past few seasons.
But the trio is no longer on their books, with Taylor and Jarvis moving to Rangers this season, while Cremer has taken a break from cricket to be with his family abroad.
“This season will see Rhinos fielding a few new faces due to the departure of Taylor, Jarvis and Cremer,” Rhinos coach Adam Chifo said.
“While we have retained the likes of PJ Moor, Neville Madziva and Brandon Mavuta, it’s pretty much a very young side that will help us rebuild.
“I am confident that though we may no longer look the best team on paper, the talent and passion we have is quite exceptional.”
Their credentials will be put to a stern test at the hands of Eagles this week.
“We obviously would like to start with a win and that would certainly boost our confidence as a team. But Eagles are no push-overs as they are probably the strongest of all the provincial teams,” Chifo said.
“So we will take each game as it comes and looks to be disciplined with our team processes.”