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System failure behind fast bowling woes

DURING the second Test between Zimbabwe and the West Indies in October, commentator Alan Wilkins, the former English county player, posed a question to colleague Vusi Sibanda, wondering why pace bowler Michael Chinouya, a drinks-carrier during the series, does not get a fair crack of the whip despite always being in the squad.
Sports Panorama with Enock Muchinjo

“I think he must be given a chance,” remarked Wilkins. “If he is not good enough he is not good enough.”

Wilkins is one of the most respected and authoritative voices in international sport. He has not made his name in cricket alone — but also in football, tennis, golf, rugby, squash and even Formula One.

His views on Chinouya, after much digesting, pretty much summed up for me Zimbabwe’s problems with fast bowlers.

There is a nagging feeling, something that tells you we do not really nurture and manage our pace bowlers’ progress well.

It is not just Chinouya. But as a case in point, for someone who has been around for quite a while now, a player groomed with so much hype for a number of seasons, Chinouya cannot remain a fringe player forever. It is either he is good enough or he is not: simple as that.

It has been said time again that Zimbabwe’s bowling attack lacks real quality to trouble most international batting line-ups.

But there is something we do not do well to fix this Achilles problem and for a team coached by no less a man than Heath Streak, one would expect this to be addressed as a matter of priority.

Wilkins’ remarks on Chinouya aside, this piece is also inspired by the selection of exciting 20-year-old fast bowler Blessing Muzarabani for the historic and experimental day-night Test match with South Africa starting on Boxing Day in Port Elizabeth.

Streak almost ran out of words this week to describe the young chap, who stands some two metres tall and probably still growing. The coach has every reason to get excited by this new prodigy of Zimbabwean cricket.

Young Muzarabani is tall, really tall, and he hits the deck hard and generates very good pace quite constantly.

He also has potential to get bounce out of lifeless pitches — a very useful weapon in any pace bowler’s armoury.

But here lies the big question: without even expecting Muzarabani to make his debut on Boxing Day, how long is he going to be allowed to progress as an international cricketer following this call-up?

Will he be given a chance over a permissible period of time, over a consistent run of games, to show if he really is good enough or not.

One hopes he does not fall by the wayside like many before him.

Not so long ago, we had other young fast bowlers — Carl Mumba and Richard Ngarava — being called up to the national side amid the same kind of hype as Muzarabani’s.

Forgive my pessimism, but we have been there before. It is going to be hard for these youngsters to reclaim their places in the team. Even harder for those before them, like Luke Jongwe, Richard Muzhange and Neville Madziva—who in my opinion were never given a decent run to prove their worth.

Does the system fail these players?

To an extent yes.

But also in the case of one or two players I have mentioned above, it has also been down to personal discipline and temperament.

Guidance and hand-holding, in their case, was not there. They were left alone in a big world, where fame and a bit of fortune seemed to be knocking.

We need to develop a strong support system, especially for the greater benefit of the guys from the less privileged backgrounds — often the biggest victims of the tendency to count chickens before they hatch.

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