By ELIAS CHIPEPO –
CRICKET is one of the games that is still trying to make a mark on the national scene that has for a long time been dominated by football and boxing.
Too many, cricket is simply a game played by Zambians of Asian origin and one cannot blame them, especially that India has been a powerhouse of the sport for the long time along with the likes of Pakistan.
But over the years, indigenous Zambians have started taking interest in the sport going by the way cricket has been introduced in the North-Western and Northern Provinces.
Cricket has continued to make strides in Zambia under the leadership of Reuben Chama, who took over the reigns from the Andrew Shawa led executive committee.
The Chama-led committee took over reigns at a time when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had stopped funding youth programmes in Zambia after revelations that $500, 000 in grants meant for youth programmes had been misused.
Tough as the case may be, the executive committee soldiered on to ensure that programmes are carried out and in the process gaining back the confidence from the ICU and African Cricket Council (ACC).
This year has been a good for the union who have placed youth development and introduction of the sport countrywide top of their agenda. That aside, the ZCU has been running the Copperbelt and Midlands Leagues which also had the junior leagues.
During the 2013 ZCU development programme under review, among the successes, the union scored what was the introduction of cricket in Kasama, Northern Province.
Cricket has never been played before in that area and the province becomes the fourth to be on ZCU’s cricket development programme.
Chama said 16 Schools were captured in Northern Province and equipment was handed out to help in the setting up of school teams.
Overall in the four Provinces namely, Copperbelt, Lusaka, North Western and Northern, ZCU has 101 schools both Government and Private where cricket is being played representing 4040 pupils involved in the game.
Development courses and other related programmes were conducted for coaches, teachers and journalists.
The empowerment of all those trained, made a positive impact towards the growth of the game as well as raising the standard of the game in the country.
At junior club level, ZCU successfully ran the Under 17 boys league and the Girls league on a weekly basis on the Copperbelt.
Five teams were involved in both league namely, Nkana, Ndola, Mufulira, Luanshya and Chingola. This is the first time that junior leagues were running on a weekly basis.
In Lusaka, a weekly Under 17 league for the girls was also on featuring four teams Chibolya United, Kabwata Looters, Kanyama Knights and Chinika Shooting Stars. Two Under 17 leagues for the boys was also held.
The first one started in April and featured four teams Makeni Warriors, Alpha Cricket Academy, O Blacks and Woodland Stars. The second league in Lusaka also featured four which consisted of Chibolya United, Kabwata Looters, Kanyama Knights and Chinika Shooting Stars.
The Copperbelt, Lusaka and North Western Provinces hosted mini cricket tournaments that were held for the schools involved in the development programme.
At national level, the national under-19 team participated in Cricket World Cup qualifying tournament where they emerged sixth out of eight countries.
On the local scene, the union held inter provincial tournaments for girls, women, boys and men between Lusaka and the Copperbelt.
Chama said the union faced a number of challenges in implementing this programmes that ranged from lack of soft balls, especially for mini cricket events in schools.
He said with more schools coming on board, the equipment was not enough as the soft ball equipment (wooden ones) which ZCU has do not last long.
“Lack of proper uniforms for the junior teams and development officers, hard ball equipment was not sufficient to go around the teams at club level considering that both girls and boys used the same equipment for practice and league games,” he said.
Chama said lack of exposure at international level among the boys and girls has been a hindrance to some elite level of the game going forward.
And looking forward to 2014, Chama said ZCU will cement its cricket structures in the four provinces and spread the development programmes to other parts of the country where the sport has not been played like Southern and Eastern Provinces.
“With the increase in more junior players in Zambia, it is expected that the structures being put in place will lead to an improvement at the elite level,” he said.
Chama said in 2014, the boys junior teams are all expected to play 50 overs cricket while the girls will play 35 overs cricket so as to improve the standards and competition.
He also said a provincial league may also be on the cards involving the four provinces which will help in bridging the gap in competition among them and improve standards at national and international levels
Chama said will also help the selectors to monitor elite players for any future national team engagements, while the district and provincial school league structures are also expected to be put in place.