Zimbabwe signs 16

Sixteen Zimbabwe cricketers have signed contracts with Zimbabwe Cricket that make them available for the upcoming season.

The announcement is the first positive step for the country's national cricketing body since it was held to ransom by a player strike on December 22.

However, six players, including opening batsman Stuart Matsikenyeri, have declined deals.

Andy Blignaut, widley considered a hot favourite for the vacant captaincy, is among the 16.

"We are happy that the technical and players' welfare committee has made so much progress," said Zimbabwe Cricket boss Ozias Bvute in a statement.

"We need to start serious preparations for the tour by Kenya later this month."

Kenya is scheduled to play three one-day internationals in Zimbabwe, who last month voluntarily suspended Test status until early 2007.

However, a tour to the West Indies scheduled for May remains in serious doubt.

Batsman Hamilton Masakadza, a student at Free State University in South Africa, has applied for study leave and is available for selection on a tour-by-tour basis.

Veteran bowlers Douglas Hondo, Mluleki Nkala, plus Gavin Ewing, and Tinashe Panyangara are still to be considered for contracts and will be looked at after medical assessment.

The Zimbabwe government took control of cricket on January 6 in the wake of the player strike and investigations into allegations of financial mismanagement by ZC.

The struggling team has lost seven of its last 10 Tests by an innings, and been defeated in 26 of its last 28 one-day internationals.

Kenya will leave for Harare on February 20 and officials believe the step would improve their chances of making the ICC Champions Trophy in October.

"It's good news not only for Zimbabwe, but for us as well," said Cricket Kenya chief executive Tom Tikolo.

"That Zimbabwe have solved their problems, especially with the playing unit, gives us all the hope to lay a claim on the one-day rankings."

Zimbabwe Cricket contracted players: Andy Blignaut, Elton Chigumbura, Charles Coventry, Keith Dabengwa, Terrence Duffin, Anthony Ireland, Blessing Mahwire, Bernard Mlambo, Christopher Mpofu, Tawanda Mupariwa, Allan Mwayenga, Waddington Mwayenga, Edward Rainsford, Vusumuzi Sibanda, Gregory Strydom, Prosper Utseya.

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