Zimbabwe men win cricket gold at African Games but status kerfuffle leaves sour taste

The sudden de-listing of South Africa matches as official T20Is left many fans confused and scratching their heads

Final Medal Ceremony at the African Games Men's Cricket event

It was double delight for Zimbabwean cricketers at the ongoing African Games in Ghana. Eleven days after the women clinched gold in a thrilling final against South Africa, the Chevron men’s team repeated their exploits by blowing away Namibia by eight wickets in the final.

Bowling first, they were immaculate with their lines and lengths, chipping away at the Namibians with regular wickets. Every time the batters looked to up the ante, a wicket fell, preventing Namibia from forming meaningful partnerships. The innings coughed and spluttered along, eventually reaching 113/7 from 20 overs. None of the batters except captain Malan Kruger could manage a strike rate above 100. The Chevron bowling was miserly with every bowler conceding less than 6.33 runs per over.

In response, the Zimbabwean batters blazed away to a fast start and never looked back. It was a very comfortable chase with Zimbabwe romping home with 5.1 overs and 8 wickets to spare. Opener Tadiwanashe Marumani was the chief architect, hitting an attractive 58 runs off 40 balls with six fours and three sixes.

It capped off a brilliant tournament for the men who won every single game and barring a close fought win against Tanzania, looked a class above the rest. They had earlier also beaten Namibia in the group stages by 35 runs.

The gold medal was achieved courtesy of a real team effort with the aforementioned Marumani, Jonathan Campbell, Rodney Mupfudza, captain wicket-keeper Clive Madande and Brian Bennett all contributing useful runs at crucial times. On the bowling front, debutant Owen Muzondo was a difficult prospect for batters with his left arm orthodox spin nabbing eleven wickets at 8.27 and an economy rate of 5.05.

Consolation prize for Namibia

As for the Namibians, they would consider themselves fortunate to pick up a silver medal after almost bombing out in the group stages. The inexperienced team struggled, losing consecutive games to Zimbabwe and Nigeria. Facing elimination, they finally kicked into gear against Tanzania with a crushing seven wicket victory. This led to a three-way tie for second place, with Namibia, Tanzania and Nigeria all finishing on two points. However, Namibia’s superior net run rate saved their blushes and ensured they qualified for the semi-finals.

In the semis, they defeated Uganda by 24 runs, courtesy of a brilliant spell by fast bowler Handre Klazinge, who picked up 4/19. Klazinge also topped the Namibian wicket charts with seven scalps, while captain Kruger was the team’s highest run scorer with 118 runs at 23.6. Unfortunately, pacer Ben Shikongo wasn’t able to replicate his good form from the Nepal Triangular Series. While impressive in the semi-finals, he only picked up four wickets overall and was largely ineffective in the two games against Zimbabwe.

Uganda’s fairytale continues
Uganda picked up a bronze medal at the African Games, following on from their successful T20 World Cup qualification last year

What a last six months it has been for Ugandan cricket. Fresh off their successful T20 World Cup qualification campaign last November, the Cricket Cranes added another feather to their bow with a bronze medal at the African Games.

They had a flawless group stage, thrashing Kenya and Ghana as well as edging out University Sport South Africa (USSA) in a narrow two wicket victory. With momentum on their side, they would have expected to do better against Namibia in the semi-final. Unfortunately, an untimely poor batting performance meant they could not chase down a mediocre target of 112 and had to settle for the 3rd place playoff.

The bronze medal game saw Uganda put on an extraordinary batting show against the hapless Kenyan bowlers, racking up 206/6 after winning the toss and batting first. In-form opener Simon Ssesazi blazed away to a rapid start with assistance from No.3 Robinson Obuya, propelling the team to 125/1 in just 14 overs. A double wicket over by Kenyan bowler Nelson Odhiambo put a brake on things temporarily, only for Dinesh Nakrani to launch a brutal assault from the 17th over mark.

73 runs were scored in the last four overs, including an extraordinary 32 runs off a ten-ball 19th over. Nakrani remained unbeaten till the end, finishing on a swashbuckling 51 runs off only 21 balls. In response, a shellshocked Kenya never got going, inching their way to 100/9 in their allotted overs, to lose by 106 runs.

It was a disappointing end for 42-year-old Kenyan veteran Collins Obuya who announced his retirement from the game shortly after. Alongside James Anderson of England, he was the only player from the 2003 ODI World Cup still active. Bursting onto the scene as a leg-spinner, Obuya quickly transitioned to top order batting in 2007 after his bowling rhythm deserted him. He ends his career as Kenya’s highest run getter in T20Is and the 3rd highest run scorer in ODI cricket, behind Steve Tikolo and Thomas Odoyo.

Allrounder Collins Obuya pulled the plug on his cricketing career after representing Kenya for 23 years. He finishes as Kenya’s highest run scorer in T20I cricket.

For Uganda, openers Roger Mukasa and Ssesazi were highly instrumental in getting their team away to good starts on a consistent basis. Mukasa topped the tournament run scoring charts with 230 runs at 46, while Ssesazi racked up 180 runs at 36 and a 154 SR. All-rounder Nakrani provided plenty of ballast to the middle order, chipping in with 121 runs and 2 wickets.

On the bowling front, left-arm spinner Alpesh Ramjani was simply unplayable. He finished as the highest wicket-taker with 13 wickets at an astounding average of 4.69 and economy rate of 3.1.

The kerfuffle with official status and rankings

The good news story of cricket’s debut in the African Games was however tempered somewhat, mainly due to the selective application of official T20I status for games across the tournament. Prior to the event, it was widely understood that all matches will carry official status and therefore will influence rankings, dependent on results.

But halfway through the Games, some scorecards on ICC Match Centre and Cricinfo were mysteriously amended, with games involving South Africa seemingly stripped off official T20I status. The Proteas had sent a largely U23 developmental squad to the African Games for both men’s and women’s events but were still expected to compete under the official senior South African team banner.

What transpired instead was bordering on the farcical, with the men’s team renamed to University Sport South Africa (USSA) and the women’s team to South Africa Emerging Players Women Cricket Team. Rather conveniently, this happened after the men’s team crashed out of the tournament at the group stages, following a shellacking by Kenya.

While not confirmed, it has been speculated that CSA made a behind the scenes request to ICC to remove the official T20I status from their matches. It is yet another sad reflection of how elitist mindsets continue to plague the sport despite a global push made by the game’s governing body.

Also, the Asian Games Cricket event last year didn’t suffer from similar issues, despite participating Full Members from the region sending developmental squads, especially for the men’s event. Regardless, all games were still recognised as official T20Is. It would’ve been ideal if the ICC or officials at the games displayed the necessary backbone to stand up to these demands to ensure consistency; particularly in the T20 format which is supposed to have universal status.

And to make matters worse, there has been a dearth of media releases by certain parties involved to clarify the matter for fans and journalists. Instead, they have been left to ponder and speculate on social media and wait for the latest update to the T20I rankings table to comprehend what exactly took place.

UPDATE:

It has since emerged that games involving Zimbabwe men have also been de-listed as official T20Is. This is according to a tweet from Cricbuzz cricket journalist Bertus de Jong who contacted ICC and received the following confirmation.

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