A LOT of professional sportsmen should envy Dave Houghton’s cricket career.
Now based in the United Kingdom where he
is director of cricket at second division county side Derbyshire, Houghton returned home last week for his off-season vacation.
Houghton, who joined Derbyshire in January 2004, where he is in charge of all cricket operations at the club, said his centre of attention is still his job in the UK. But coming back to Zimbabwe is something that has always been in Houghton’s plans.
“My contract runs up to 2007 and I intend to come back and stay here,” said the former Zimbabwe cricketer and coach. “I have no intension of leaving. I have kept my house here and my family is here. Africa is my blood. This is where I want to stay.”
After resigning from his Zimbabwe coaching job in 2001 amid unrest among the players over incentives and a quota system in effect at the time, Houghton went into television commentary, albeit by mistake.
“I started by doing a few games from here when international sides were touring, and Sky Sports, who I was stringing for, asked me to carry on. It was very interesting. I was now based in England doing county cricket on a sort of a part time basis.
“I met a lot of cricket personalities and traveled the length and breadth of England for games. I enjoyed my time.
“But I told myself that since I was still in my 40s, I was still very physically fit to be on the field coaching cricket. So when Derbyshire approached me, I kindly took the offer.
“I would want to finish my job with Derbyshire first then I would like to come back home. I would want to be involved with schools sport having coached all my life. I want to finish my career like that.”
Although Houghton says Zimbabwe lost too many players over a short period of time to be still competitive against top sides, he believes the current squabbling in the game will do more harm to the game.
“Zimbabwe is a fantastic country to play cricket in,” he said. “As one of the pioneers of professional cricket in this country, I am disappointed that things are going the way they are on and off the field.
“There is a lot of potential here which is going to waste. There is no reason why we can’t produce a team again.
“We have good facilities here (at Harare Sports Club) and at Queens. Look at the Academy, it’s fantastic. But we have to run them correctly. We have to coach correctly. We need to get the squabbles away and get back on the road.”
Lack of adequate preparations for the players before graduating into the national team has proved to be the Achilles heel for Zimbabwe.
Houghton said: “I know most of these kids from the Academy (where Houghton previously coached), and they are a fantastic bunch of players.
The thing is they need experience. They can get the experience by playing a lot more of first-class games.
“What is happening now is that the guys leave school, play club cricket and get chucked into provincial cricket. The next time they are playing against India.
“By the time we made out Test debut in 1992, I already had played 80 first-class games and that against the top countries in the world. Players need to be fine-tuned. That has been missing.”
Looking back at his career in Zimbabwe, Houghton has mostly happy memories.
“I loved my time in Zimbabwe. We were amateurs when I was still playing, but we had a wonderful time and we had a capable side. We had some success in 1998 and 1999 when I was coach,” he reminisced.
“Looking back at the number of hiccups versus the good times, you can’t compare. I had a wonderful career.”
One of the things that troubles Houghton is that most of the players who passed through his hands have left the local game, although they are still active elsewhere.
“Not a lot of people know about Greg Lamb, who was at the Academy a few years back. He is doing very well in the UK at Hampshire where Sean Ervine is,” he said.
“Then you also have the Flower brothers at Essex and Ray Price at Worcestershire (where Houghton also previously coached). These are guys that should be playing for Zimbabwe.”