Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter
FORMER Zimbabwe opener Stuart Matsikenyeri is happy with the progress they have made with the Rising Stars Cricket Academy after the youthful side signed off their debut season by winning the Pro50 Championship after beating Mountaineers in the final at the weekend.
The youthful side produced a stunning performance in the 144-run victory spurred on by three half centuries from Tony Munyonga (65), Ryan Burl (62) and Tarisai Musakanda (51).
But it was the record-breaking exploits of 21-year old Brandon Mavuta, who had incredible return of eight wickets for 38 runs with the ball, which grabbed the limelight for the academy side.
Mavuta’s figures achieved in only 8.1 overs became the best return by any Zimbabwean bowler in List A cricket.
After piling on 281/9 in their 50 overs, Rising Stars had the experienced Mountaineers crashing 137 all out inside 31 overs.
“It was brilliant to be added on to play in the first place. This group had gone through some exciting training all round through the course of the programme.
“So we all felt ready for the challenge despite being young. Fifty odd cricket matches complimented with positive mental training put us in a place where we truly believed we would compete very well.
“We started very slowly in red ball cricket especially with the bat. But as the season progressed we got really strong as the boys just continued to implement the lessons learnt overseas, of course, with guidance of the management.
“But ultimately they took responsibility which is what the programme really pushed,” said Matsikenyeri.
The Rising Stars Academy, who are made up mainly of young talents that have just graduated from the Under-19 set up, have been a revelation, especially in the second half of the season.
The academy is the brainchild of former Zimbabwe captain Tatenda Taibu.
They also competed in the Logan Cup for the first time in the just-ended season.
Matsikenyeri was excited by the way the side recovered from a slow start in the limited overs game to finish top of the table with five wins from eight matches and then putting the icing on the cake at Takashinga Sports Club in the final on Saturday.
The former Zimbabwe opener also credited their pre-season tour to the UK, where they had a packed games schedule, for the success story.
“Winning the trophy for us is awesome of course. We knew we were stronger at the white ball game but to go on and win it just proves how the class of 2017/18 had a really strong programme. We are all very thrilled to have achieved this.
“The UK tour had huge impact. Lots of cricket on different grounds, against different types of opposition. Learning in a different environment was a big plus.
“It pushed us a fair bit at sometimes we would get home around midnight from a match only to wake up early morning to head to another.
“Such was the hunger of the boys that we kept going and got as much as we could. Credit to Tatenda and Nick Gordon for managing to get all those fixtures,” said Matsikenyeri.