AS he swigs a mouthful of beer, Brighton Watambwa looks up from the Keg & Maiden bar at the Harare Sports Club cricket field and says: “Sports Club looks pretty, hey?” And he says that wit
hout a smidgen of regret about the ground he would have made a notable mark on.
To some, Watambwa was a troublesome young player who gave up on a promising and rewarding cricket career under his country’s flag to settle in the United States where his fame and fortune would be reduced.
But on his first homecoming since he left three years ago, a rather lower-key event than his departure, Watambwa spoke for the first time about his fallout with Zimbabwe cricket.
“I was the best bowler in the country and I believe I’m still the best. I never played badly for Zimbabwe once. I’m good. I left because I did not get the contract I wanted. They offered me a ‘D’ contract and I could not accept it.
There were people who got ‘C’ contracts who had not played for Zimbabwe,” Watambwa said.
At 25, Watambwa was a breath of fresh air on the Zimbabwe cricket scene. Blessed with terrifying pace and good line and length, Watambwa was almost unplayable to the batsmen in domestic cricket.
It seemed only a matter of time before the Harare Sports Club speed merchant would take international cricket by storm. But Watambwa only left depression marks on his fans when his dispute with the then Zimbabwe Cricket Union became irreconcilable.
Watambwa bade farewell to family and friends before boarding a plane to the United States. On his return, IndependentSport caught up with the Marimba Park-raised boy who traded the bright lights of Harare for the bush of Falcon College in Esigodini.
“There were a lot of issues I was not happy with,” he said. “My last Test was against India in 2002 and before we even went on tour, the selectors decided that I was not going to play in the one-dayers. So straight after India I was supposed to go to Namibia with the A side at a time when Australia were going to be playing Tests here.
“I felt I was performing well above the guys put in the national team. I didn’t have a car. I was not paid. I was very poor,” he said.
Watambwa made his Test debut for Zimbabwe in Harare against Bangladesh in 2001. But he would only last six Tests, with his last appearance in Zimbabwe’s whites coming against India in New Delhi a year later. He totalled 14 wickets from the six matches.
Within a year in Florida, Watambwa was selected for the US national team, but under ICC regulations, he had to wait four years since his last appearance for Zimbabwe to be able to play for America.
“I’m still playing well for my club, Palm Beach, in Miami. I’m damn quick. I can still come back and make Zimbabwe,” he said. “Cricket is not very big in the States. It’s still coming up though. It’s only the expatriate guys who play. Like at my club, there are South Africans, Aussies and Indians, and I’m the captain of the side.
“I’ve also played for the Florida state side from where I got selected to play for the States. But unfortunately, the US did not qualify for the 2007 World Cup, and it was a major disappointment for me because I was going to be eligible to play for them at the next World Cup.
“My cricket dream was always to play in the World Cup, but that’s not gonna happen now. I get life fulfilment from playing cricket, but I don’t see myself returning to Zimbabwe cricket for the time being. I have other things that I do which give me a lot of satisfaction. I’m married (to an American), and very soon my wife and I will have to raise kids.”
Beginning next year, Watambwa, who is completing a degree in communication and economics at the University of Miami, starts work on stocks and bonds on the New York Stoke Exchange.
“It’s interesting. It pays pretty. The aspiration there is to make money,” he said.
Back to players issues and the rebel saga.
“It started before I left. It was not just a white issue. There were real issues,” he said. “I think the rebels took an extreme line which was not beneficial to Zimbabwe cricket. I’m happy that some of them have now returned. But at the same time, ZC should have acknowledged that there were very serious issues that needed to be addressed, and at the end of the day it was to everyone’s detriment,” said Watambwa.