FORMER Zimbabwe cricket stalwart Heath Streak fears that his international career might be over, although that will not rule him out of any future involvement with Zimbabwe cricket.
Fast bowler Streak signed a contract with Indian Cricket League side Ahmedabad Rockets in February 2008. This led to English county Warwickshire not renewing his contract.
IndependentSport this week tracked down the burly former national side captain in Ranch Mine near Bulawayo, where he is currently working on the family business while awaiting the beginning of the ICL season in October.
â€œYou can never rule anything out totally but itâ€™s not anything Iâ€™m considering at the moment,â€ says Steak on his Zimbabwe future.
Having celebrated his 35th birthday on Monday, Streak will certainly have seen his best days by the time his ICL contract expires at the end of 2010.
Will the ICL mark the end of his playing career? It certainly should.
â€œYou never know but it could well happen that way,â€ he says. â€œBut that wonâ€™t be the end of my interest in cricket.â€
In the interim, imparting his knowledge is something he is happy to do and is involved in private junior coaching in Bulawayo. He also hasnâ€™t ruled out listening to any offers at the national level.
â€œAt the moment my priority is my contractual obligation in the ICL, but if something of that sort comes up, I will look at it and see where things go from there.
â€œLook, I would want to give back to Zimbabwe cricket what it gave me. My country has always come first in everything I do. There is a lot I can do and Iâ€™m hopeful for the future of the game here. I also want my boy (four-year old son Harry) to have a future in cricket here.â€
He applauds the existing talent at Zimbabweâ€™s disposal, but says insufficient matches and the substandard domestic game is a worrying factor.Â Â
â€œThere is definitely a lot of talent but probably they lack a bit of experience in terms of having the playing experience you will find in the other teams.
â€œWe probably need to streamline domestic first-class cricket so as to have fewer teams but high-level cricket. We need to raise the quality of domestic cricket.â€
Resumption of Test cricket will hinge on the rectification of all these things, he says.
â€œI think they are quite comfortable playing ODI and Twenty20 cricketâ€¦ Zim has always been competitive in ODIs. It will take a while to get back to the top level again. It wonâ€™t happen overnight.
â€œYou need high quality coaching at the top. You need to have your back-up staff: sports psychologists, fitness trainers and specialist coaches. You need to have access to these professionals. We donâ€™t have as much compared to, say, England or Australia, but we need to take advantage of what we can provide.â€
He says of the teamâ€™s recent performances: â€œI watched the games in Bangladesh and followed the results in Kenya. They performed reasonably well. There were some good performances particularly from the bowlers. Obviously there are the two spinners, (Ray) Price and (Prosper) Utseya, who stand out. Then Ed Rainsford bowled well upfront. The other guys were steady, but those three particularly bowled really well.
â€œWhere we have a problem is the batting side. In my view some of the senior players like Tatenda Taibu, Hamilton Masakadza, Vusi Sibanda and Stuart Matsikenyeri need to convert their scores into bigger innings much more regularly than they do. If Zim is to do well these guys need to be more reliable.â€
Streak played 65 Tests and 189 ODIs for Zimbabwe. He was part of 15 â€œrebelâ€ players who quit the team following internal turmoil in Zimbabwe cricket in 2004. He made a comeback in 2005 and was immediately drafted into the team. In 2006 he was named captain for Warwickshire after signing for two years.
As early as the 1996-97 season, â€œStreakyâ€ was already being spoken of by Rhodesia legend David Lewis as worth a place in a Best Zimbabwe XI since the end of the Second World War.
He is the first Zimbabwean, and only one to date, to reach 100 Test wickets. He is of course the countryâ€™s leading wicket-taker with 216 Test scalps, and with the retired Paul Strang a distant second on 70, and Zimbabwe currently being in Test wilderness, that record will take many years to be equalled.
Streak also lead in ODIs with 237 wickets.
Had it not been for the player disturbances which weakened the Zimbabwe side and caused Test exile, and then the political strife in the country which resulted in local and international tours being abandoned, the career of Streak and other leading Zimbabwe players would have been almost at par with some of the worldâ€™s best-known players.
What made Streak even more special was that he bowled so often for Zimbabwe without lethal support at the other end â€” and still did magnificently. It was only when he linked up with Henry Olonga that Zimbabwe had at last a bowling attack with real fire-power.
While Olonga could propel the ball at great speed, Streak was never genuinely fast by world standards, though the placid pitches at Harare Sports Club gave him a little help. He relied more on accuracy, seam, swing, persistence and sheer determination. As his career progressed and he slowed his pace a little, he pitched the ball up more and developed the skills of movement, becoming a more complete bowler.
An unorthodox middle-order batsman, he is a handy fielder too, especially in the covers.
Streak belies his rugged look: he is an approachable sportsman and role model to many in Zimbabwe and abroad.
With his playing career in the twilight, he says:
â€œObviously I regret not having played that many international games at the endâ€¦but county cricket in England kind of atoned for that.
â€œI look back at my four seasons at Warwickshire with satisfaction. I enjoyed it greatly. I had a reasonably successful time. The whole English structure is professional.â€
Regarding international matches against Zimbabwe, Streak says itâ€™s high time all tour obligations are honoured.
â€œMaybe because of this unity government people will look at us in different light. Security is not an issue here compared to Sri Lanka. You canâ€™t put us in the same bracket with such countries. (But) I understand that in the past these boycotts to Zimbabwe were based on moral and political issues. But I would like to see these countries changing their stance by helping cricket in Zimbabwe.
â€œItâ€™s a wonderful opportunity for them to build relationships with African people. Itâ€™s good for the morale of the people of Zimbabwe and for cricket.â€
BY ENOCH MUCHINJO