Zimbabwe bets on Victoria Falls stadium as on-field fortunes sink
The promise of adventure and a perfectly Instagrammable backdrop places Victoria Falls among Africa’s prime tourism markets, a resource that Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) hopes to tap into with a bold plan to build a 10,000-capacity stadium in the resort town.
Located on Zimbabwe’s border with Zambia under the dazzling mist formed by the thunderous Zambezi River waterfall, the 35,000-strong town of Victoria Falls is known for its wildlife, water sports and lasting symbols of the British colonial era.
It is not known for cricket, though, and only two senior clubs operate there today. Nonetheless, a new international-class venue is seen as a way to grow the game beyond the main cities of Harare and Bulawayo.
The five to 10 million dollar endeavour, as estimated by local media, between ZC and Zimbabwe’s government comes as the embattled team is assured qualification for the 50-over World Cup in 2027 as co-hosts with South Africa and Namibia.
“We need to spread the game, which we have done over the years, in all 10 provinces of this country,” ZC chairman Tavengwa Mukuhlani said.
“Victoria Falls is one of those places that we think is important from a tourist point of view.”
Whilst an easy sell conceptually, the project is not without challenges. The idea for a Victoria Falls cricket ground was first floated in 2010 but shelved due to financial constraints.
To regularly fill grandstands and hotels without an affluent local market to leverage, cricket would depend on wealthy supporter groups following marquee tours by the types of teams which rarely visit Zimbabwe, such as England and Australia.
ZC did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Stinging defeats by Scotland and Uganda in 2023 left Zimbabwe, a former top 10 side, out of the recent 50-over World Cup in India as well as next year’s supersized, 20-team Twenty20 showpiece in the Caribbean.
Reduced to locking horns with 63rd-ranked Rwanda and 33rd-ranked Tanzania in last month’s T20 qualifiers, ZC have been proactively courting international talent to bolster their ranks.
Former England international Gary Ballance returned, briefly, to represent his birth country earlier this year before unexpectedly retiring, and top-order batsman Nick Welch made his Zimbabwe debut after a stint with Leicestershire.
The most unorthodox signing may still come, with Australia-based batsman Antum Naqvi declaring his goal is national selection for Zimbabwe — a country he has no familial ties to and had not visited until January this year.
“I’ve told the ZC board I’m pretty interested (to) take the opportunity to play at the highest level and ZC seem to be very keen as well, to do a bit of research into it,” Naqvi told Reuters.
On the recommendation of former Zimbabwe opener Solomon Mire, the now 24-year-old travelled to the African country pursuing a professional debut.
He subsequently dominated the first-class competition, scoring three hundreds in five games at a Don Bradman-esque average of 95. Similar white-ball returns helped propel the Belgium-born player to local prominence and Zimbabwe Under-25s selection.
“I didn’t really think about playing for Zimbabwe at the very beginning. The talks only started happening after the season ended,” he added.
As Zimbabwean cricket suffers through familiar turmoil, breaking free of convention may be a gamble well worth taking.