Arise, Vintage Hamilton!

DURING the post-series press conference following Zimbabwe’s 4-1 victory over Kenya, captain Prosper Utseya let slip man-of-the-series Hamilton Masakadza’s new nickname.

“We now call him Agent Sawu,” Utseya said teasingly.

 

Why? The journos enquired curiously.

“Because, you know, when he scores runs, no one else does!”

The strongly-built Masakadza had just come out of the Croco Motors ODI series with Kenya where the cricketing world belatedly discovered that the Zimbabwe opener’s 467 runs was, in fact, a world record highest aggregate in a bilateral series. The previous holder of the record was West Indies kingpin Chris Gayle, who managed 455 runs in seven ODIs against India in the 2002-03 season.

Never mind the opposition, Masakadza remarkably bettered the feat in fewer games, smashing two big centuries, including a career-best 178 not out, and looked a class act throughout the series. The 26-year-old right-hander has been Zimbabwe’s most consistent batsman dating back to last November when Sri Lanka toured here.

But what does Hami think of the Agent Sawu moniker?

“That’s Prosper being silly,” he says with a trademark hearty laugh. “He started calling me that at our franchise, the (Manicaland) Mountaineers and he’s trying to smuggle it into the national team!”

Agent Sawu, the former Zimbabwe national soccer team striker, was as prolific in front of goal as Masakadza is at the crease.

The problem with Sawu, myth had it, was that teammates couldn’t score once he opened the account for the Warriors.

While Utseya’s humour is obviously devoid of malice towards his best mate, it’s still important to mention that Masakadza always appear to dwarf his teammates’ contribution because he scores big. Period.

“It’s by far the best series I have played for Zim,” Masakadza says. “To score two big hundreds is a big thing. It was good in that respect. Against Bangladesh it wasn’t that good. Besides the hundred (his maiden in ODIs), I didn’t contribute that much to the team.”

Zimbabwe hosted Bangladesh in August in Bulawayo, losing 4-1.

“I guess we’ve kept maturing, working hard,” he says. “Against Sri Lanka we had three chances to win the game. When we last played Bangladesh before this year, we were outclassed. This time around we lost 4-1, but it was not an accurate reflection of how we played. We were in it like four times.”

Now, with the Zimbabwe team in Bangladesh ahead of five more ODIs on the subcontinent, it’s high time, perhaps, the Masakadza’s match-winning ability starts to be felt against stronger opponents.

“Well, the responsibility has always been there being a top-order batsman and being a guy who’s been consistent,” he acknowledges. “The key is to make sure that when I’m in form I stay in form and carry the team.

“There is definitely pressure. There is always pressure when we play Bangladesh. When I first got into the team we were the better side. So these days when we play them there is so much pressure to go back to where we were, which is above them.

“It will be tricky. The last time we were there the conditions weren’t suitable. We are not sure what to expect.”

The heartbreak of being left out of Zimbabwe’s 2007 ICC World Cup squad is long forgotten, and Masakadza has since established himself firmly as the talisman of the Zimbabwe team, fulfilling the potential he showed when he became the youngest man then to score a century on Test debut as a 17-year-old against West Indies back in 2001.

When on song Masakadza is a marvel to watch, particularly strong when driving on the front foot, and technically Zimbabwe’s best batsman too.

He likes the ball coming onto the bat, yet he is still content facing up to the spinners.

“I would say I am comfortable with both,” he says. “Some teams have better seamers than spinners, like South Africa, while some have better spinners than seamers, like Sri Lanka. What matters is to adjust to whatever biggest threat comes your way.”

A new interesting dimension to Masakadza’s game is his accurate part-time seam bowling, which gives the captain option to give the frontline bowlers and spinners a break in the mid-innings.

“Ja, I play a big role with the ball as well as back-up. I bowl a lot of overs for Manicaland and take crucial wickets. I try to do the same in the national side when Prosper gives me the ball,” he says.

“We’ve always known Hamilton has talent, remember he got that Test century on debut against West Indies,” says former Zimbabwe coach Kevin Curran.

“As a batter it takes time to mature on the international level because the opposition work out your weaknesses and bowl accordingly. Hami is starting to learn what his strengths and weaknesses are. He’s getting a game plan that is working. He’s learning how to build innings. I know it’s only Kenya which is not one of the strongest sides, but if you score consistently like that in a single series you can’t do much better than that.

“If we get two or three of our batsmen playing like that we will start winning games against stronger opposition. In Bangladesh it will be more difficult because the wickets are slow and turning. Hamilton is stronger against quicker bowlers. He’s got to come to the party. We need other batsmen to come to the party as well. Maybe (Brendan) Taylor or someone.”

Other series quotes

  • “You need to do the basics right and not complicate things for yourself. Nothing has changed about cricket. Only the advertising has changed. In the 50th century they taught you to play forward. They still do in 2009.” —Kenya coach Eldine Baptiste, the former West Indies international, on his team’s series defeat.
  • “It is actually the singer (Simon) Chimbetu. I used to like one of his songs, what is the title again? Oh, I have forgotten it, but I used to move around humming to the tune of the song. From then on people started to call me ‘Chopper’. It was a long time ago and for some reason the nickname has stuck with me. ” — Record-breaking Zimbabwe batsman Charles “Chopper” Coventry explaining his nickname.
  • “It was a joy to watch Hamilton bat into history. As home-series sponsor for Zimbabwe, we would like to see more teams tour here in the near future to maintain some level of consistency at the international level. ” — Croco Motors chief executive Farai Matsika on future international games.

Most runs in an ODI series

1. Hamilton Masakadza (Zim, 467 runs) 2. Chris Gayle (West Indies, 455) 3. Kevin Pietersen (England, 454) 4. Salman Butt (Pakistan, 451) 5. Ramnaresh Sarwan (West Indies, 436) 6. Ian Bell (England, 422) 7. Mohammad Yousuf (Pakistan 405) 8. Desmond Haynes (West Indies 404) 9. Chris Gayle (West Indies 385) 10. Hansie Cronje (South Africa, 380).

 

Enock Muchinjo