The rise of Prosper Utseya from a timid, high-density boy to become the captain of one of international cricket’s top 10 teams is a remarkable rags-to-riches story.
I remember as if it was yesterday the bizarre circumstances under which Utseya was first appointed Zimbabwe cricket captain four years ago.
It was a hasty, almost unilateral decision, fitting the turbulent times the game was going through at that time.
It was in August of 2006, just before the national side left for a short training camp at Pretoria’s High Performance Centre in South Africa in preparation for Bangladesh’s ODI tour to Zimbabwe.
Utseya’s predecessor had himself been a surprise choice for the job. It was the short-lived, chain-smoking and burly Terry Duffin who seemed to have a permanent puzzled look on his face.
A few days before the team flew out for the whistle-stop tour on which I accompanied them, I called the then national selectors chairman Bruce Makovah to get the squad for a story.
A clearly excited Makovah immediately informed me that he had a better story to give than the one I was writing.
Cool, I said.
Duffin had been sacked as captain, he told me, and he had since replaced him with a “better” guy.
So at the end, after Makovah had gone through his squad, I was obviously curious to know who the new captain was.
“Ndi Utseya (It’s Utseya)!,” he revealed.
So Utseya began his new life as Zimbabwe cricket captain.
As for Makovah, he did not last long, retreating back to his businesses in Masvingo after a new selection panel headed by Kenyon Ziehl took over.
But at his prime Makovah was a powerful figure, an eloquent chap who felt so strongly about race issues inside Zimbabwe cricket. This stemmed from his playing days in Mashonaland league cricket when he believed he deserved to have been selected at least for a provincial side, only to fall victim to discrimination.
A hard-liner, yet courteous guy on the face of it, Makovah had previously been a central figure in ZC’s power struggles, at one time almost successfully pushing out the Peter Chingoka-led board.
“When a fish dies, it’s the head that rots first,” he famously told this paper in an interview at the height of the squabbles.
It is against that backdrop of uncertainty and mistrust that Utseya assumed the captaincy. Whether his appointment went through the board’s scrutiny and endorsement or not, as should be the norm, remains unknown to many to this day.
Well, it does not matter now.
But then credit to Utseya, he took the new responsibility in his stride. His personal figures improved significantly, and he rose to become the bowler with the best economy rate in international cricket. He grew in experience and confidence, fielding media questions with a new sense of self-belief and assurance.
As painstaking as it may have been, Utseya emerged out of his comfort zone with purpose that teammates even spoke of a forthright skipper behind closed changing rooms.
Many battles were fought, and many were lost. But in-between there were the odd flashes of brilliance and surprises. While international cricket is associated with a largely a pampered lifestyle,when the chips are down it can be a really tough world out there.
That bug caught up with Utseya.
His performance dipped over time, and for the first time fans and media alike turned against him.
But Utseya is a smart cricketer who believes in his own abilities and he picked himself up again, as evidenced by the recent Caribbean tours.
However, by his standards, Prosper was never the same. That confidence he so determinedly worked on deserted him.
Perhaps too much was expected of him. Perhaps he was just an easy target, a scapegoat in a team that generally underperformed.
So this week he finally tendered his resignation as Zimbabwe cricket captain at the young age of 25.
But that Utseya deserves gratitude from everyone in Zim Cricket is unquestionable.
He kept the team together, and so helping in his own way to sustain a sport that had been deserted en masse by experienced players and administrators. He led through an unstable period when prophets of doom gave the local game no chance to outlive a year.
It is refreshing that confidence has been restored in Zim Cricket, with exiled players and officials coming back to the fold in numbers. But they are simply jumping back into a ship that Utseya and his counterparts saved from sinking.
All the best, Mr Dots, you are not the skipper now, but your skills are in no doubt. Here is wishing you a prolonged international career.
… but is Elton Chigumbura the man for the job?
While it was the right time for Utseya to pass on the baton to someone else, not many fancied Elton Chigumbura to be the one.
Elton has emerged of late as a true match-winner, a role he should have assumed much earlier in his international career for a player of his talent.
The pressure of captaincy could have a telling effect on his career. Chigumbura is a carefree, swashbuckling all-rounder who likes to play the game his way, with flair, and you would not want to tamper with that by adding captaincy to his resposibilities.
Captaincy means he has to revise his approach to both batting and bowling, and the end result might not be the Elty we all know, like and understand.
One other aspect he has to work on is discipline.
During the ICC World Twenty20 in the West Indies, new coach Alan Butcher publicly censured Chigumbura for joining the team late. Chigumbura remained behind in Harare when the rest of the team left for the Caribbean, without the knowledge of the new gaffer.
For the most part a sociable, well-liked lad, Chigumbura will however want to cut down on the late night-outs, the exuberance of youth and the parties.