THE days of specialist cricketers are numbered. These days, most cricket players in the clubs and provincial teams — up to the national sides — can bat and bowl equally well.
The main reason is that youngsters are now taught all aspects of cricket when they are introduced to the game. Batting, bowling, fielding and wicketkeeping are introduced at basic level to young players learning the game. Only later on do they specialise.
In the past, it was common to see a cricket team consisting of five specialist bowlers, with the batsmen ending at number six.
In Zimbabwean cricket, a lot of players now perform more than one function on the field. One scoresheet for a Mashonaland Vigne Cup match had everyone on the bowling statistics, save for the wicketkeeper.
Recently in Test and one-day international matches, the Zimbabwe team has been made up mostly of all-rounders. The all-rounders are split into three categories.
First is the genuine all-rounder, who is almost equally good and effective as both batsman and bowler. Neil Johnson, who took the new ball and opened the batting for the team at the International Cricket Council Cricket World Cup 1999 tournament, was the last such all-rounder Zimbabwe had.
Heath Streak has done wonders for Zimbabwe with both bat and ball on several occasions, and has developed fast to become an all-rounder of repute although his bowling is his mainstay. It is a question of opinion whether Streak is a genuine all-rounder, or he falls into the second category which is of a bowler who can bat well.
Pace bowler Andy Blignaut is one of Zimbabwe’s key bowlers, and his carefree big hitting has become very much part of the Zimbabwe batting order too.
The last category is the batsman who can bowl well, or a bit.
A good number of upcoming Zimbabwean players have excelled as all-rounders. Elton Chigumbura is perhaps the most promising of the young turks. A gifted and offensive batter, Chigumbura also bowls usefully at medium pace. He is one of the fastest young bowlers in the country at the moment.
The 35-member provisional national squad released last week shows the present face of Zimbabwe cricket. More than half of the side have either bowled for their province or national team. The team’s captain, Tatenda Taibu, is known to be a batsman and wicketkeeper but he has taken off his gloves to help his bowling attack with his accurate medium pace deliveries.
Chamunorwa Chibhabha, the young Mashonaland and Zimbabwe “A” player who is in the provisional team, is the latest bright all-round prospect in local cricket. A well-groomed top or middle order batsman, Chibhabha also bowls a good line and length and takes crucial wickets.
Another youngster capable of winning the match either way is the already capped Sean Williams. He is a batsman and slow left-arm spinner. It was almost entirely because of his batting that Williams toured South Africa in January to receive his first cap, but also his bowling is a handy extra option for his skipper.
Of the players who have played for Zimbabwe for a year or more, the likes of Vusumuzi Sibanda, Barney Rogers and Gavin Ewing are some of the notable all-rounders, while batsmen Hamilton Masakadza, Trevor Gripper and Douglas Marillier bowl spin.