EXACTLY four years after making his Test debut in Bangladesh in 2005, Graeme Cremer finally became a one-day international player, finishing as Zimbabweâ€™s most successful bowler in the recent Kenya series with a haul of 15 wickets.
Cremer has always been regarded as more adept to the longer version, such that when Zimbabwe withdrew from Test cricket in 2005 his future as an international cricketer hung in the balance.
To save his career, he needed to force his way into the ODI side, and for four long years he tried without success, partly due to the fact that Zimbabwe â€” in spite of everything â€” always seem to be spoilt for choice in the spin bowling department.
Cremer, however, reckons that his bowling style has been the biggest hold-up.
â€œVery few legspinners do get to play in ODIs the world over, so I think it was more to do with that,â€ he says.
With perseverance, he started to come through, being selected into squads but without actually getting to play. He was in the squad when Sri Lanka toured Zimbabwe in November. He also made the touring party to Canada and Kenya earlier in October.
He again found himself on the plane to Bangladesh at the beginning of this year, but he had to wait for the Kenya leg to get his first chance. He cut loose with a total 15 wickets, being one of the most outstanding players in Zimbabweâ€™s 5-0 series whitewash of the East Africans.
In what was generally a batting track in Mombasa in the first two matches, he exploited the conditions quite remarkably. Then he carried his fine form to Nairobi.
â€œThe wicket was a bit slow, they did spin which helped a bit,â€ he says. â€œIt was good for spinners.â€
In fact, all of Zimbabweâ€™s spinners had a brilliant series. Frontline spinners Prosper Utseya and Ray Price were unplayable at times, while all-rounder Keith Dabengwa and even part-timer Hamilton Masakadza took wickets regularly.
A stable legspinner is an important figure in any international side, and Cremer should develop into such for Zimbabwe â€” a Paul Strang model perhaps.
Cremer generates a fair amount of turn, bowls a good googly and has reputation as a steady, accurate and wicket-taking bowler.
â€œIâ€™m able to spin away and back, my googly is one of my biggest assets,â€ he says.
In one-day cricket Cremer has had to adjust his bowling.
â€œItâ€™s a bit different with the field,â€ he says. â€œThe batting is more aggressive so you need to adjust line and length.â€
The 22-year-old Harare-born Cremer attended Prince Edward School, making good progress as an all-rounder. He batted in the top-order, sometimes even opening, and for a time was considered as primarily a batsman who could also bowl.
In his last years at school, PE were not doing very well in cricket, focusing more on rugby and other disciplines. Cremer had to shoulder the burden for the team as a player and captain.
â€œWe did not have a strong side after (Ryan) Butterworth and others left. I was the only one who made Zim. Being the only big player in the side taught me to be responsible.â€
His leadership qualities are indeed recognised, which showed when he was named captain for the Zimbabwe Presidents XI for the Pakistan national academyâ€™s visit last year.
Cremer recalls his first Test series on the subcontinent where he took six wickets in both matches.
â€œThe crowd was very intimidating,â€ he says.
â€œI was only 17. Itâ€™s a great feeling when you first receive your Test cap.â€
In the formative years Cremerâ€™s biggest influence was his father, a former Mashonaland Country Districts player.
He was always there to advise his son and take him to net practice, although he preferred to let him develop his natural game.
â€œHe tried to sort out a few things with action and stuff. He always supported me and helped a lot with bowling.â€
He also names former Zimbabwe coach Robin Brown, his mentor at Harare Sports Club, as a central figure in his development.
Cremer played in two Under-19 World Cups, in 2001 and 2005.
â€œThe first one was tough.
It was a big step up from schools cricket. For the second one, I had played four Tests already so it was much easier.â€
During his time out of favour, Cremer had an unsettled period. He tried his luck at the Highveld Lions in South Africa, then there was the controversy when an English club, Aston Rowant, publicly accused him of breaching a contract when he failed to show up at the club after signing a contract.
He explains: â€œI signed a contract with the club but ZC offered me a better oneâ€¦they (ZC) then said they would sort out things with the club.
But there was bad communication which caused the problems.
But Iâ€™m glad that I stayed.â€
Cremer would be hard-pressed, though, to cement his place in the team with Utseya and Price being the chief spinners. He acknowledges the current state of affairs with realism.
â€œIf they need three spinners I think I will playâ€¦but if the conditions donâ€™t suit that and they just need two spinners I will have to sit out for now.â€
Either way, Cremerâ€™s arrival heralds a more formidable proposition to Zimbabweâ€™s bowling attack.
BY ENOCK MUCHINJO