Bringing the best out of a player

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AS NEW Zealand batsman Colin de Grandhomme batted his way in England on Wednesday to help his team leave South Africa on the brink of World Cup exit, his former teammates were probably watching from the Netherlands and wondering how a cricketer considered so average in his youthful days could be playing and excelling at the biggest stage while they licked their wounds in some small Dutch city — an outpost of world cricket.

BY ENOCK MUCHINJO

Brendan Taylor, Sean Williams and Craig Ervine — Zimbabwe teammates of de Grandhomme at the 2004 Under-19 Cricket World Cup in Bangladesh — had earlier in the day featured in our national team’s first ODI defeat to minnows Netherlands in a low key series happening at the same time as the game’s biggest showpiece.

Elton Chigumbura, another colleague of de Grandhomme in that gifted Zimbabwe Under-19 squad of 2004, is also on tour in the Netherlands, but did not play on Wednesday.

After the Netherlands, Zimbabwe will arrive in Ireland for another unheralded contest.

The cricketing world is barely noticing and the Zimbabwe team had the World Cup to thank on Wednesday for removing focus from yet another low for the team known these days as the Chevrons.

Back in 2004, Zimbabwe really gave us hope for the future with that hugely talented bunch of teenage cricketers, ably captained by the affable Tino Mawoyo.

Four Zimbabwe senior captains — Taylor, Chigumbura, Prosper Utseya and Graeme Cremer — came out of that Under-19 side, which famously defeated the mighty Australia by seven wickets in the Youth World Cup 15 years ago.
De Grandhomme, though, disillusioned by the boardroom upheaval in Zimbabwean cricket around 2004-05, packed his bags and headed to New Zealand, who gave him his first ODI debut in 2012.

Outstanding New Zealand captain Kane Williamson, who scored an unbeaten century in the four wicket win over the Proteas on Wednesday to leave the South Africans on the ropes, said de Grandhomme’s 67 runs was in fact the match-winning innings of the match at Edgbaston.

Not the best talent in the Zimbabwe youth set-up — Colin de Grandhomme’s name was never spoken of in the same vein as that of Brendan Taylor, Elton Chigumbura, Sean Williams and Tinashe Panyangara, who were tipped to become national team stars in the not-so-distant future.

De Grandhomme was just one of the kids in the side. While he was obviously a capable young cricketer, able to drive the ball well through the off-side as I remember those days, you had the likes of Taylor and Chigumbura being hyped up as the real deal — the ones on course to become international cricketers of note.

Come to think of it now, both de Grandhomme’s ODI and Test averages are higher than those of a lot of Zimbabwe’s players, who have had longer international careers.

It is hardly rocket science how a player deemed average even by Zimbabwean standards has transformed himself into a key all-rounder in a very good New Zealand side.

Being nurtured in a functioning system has made the difference for de Grandhomme.

You then wonder what kind of player someone like Brendan Taylor — our best player — was going to be had he earned his stripes for one of the top teams in the world.

But then it is the same in all our sports. Just imagine, for a second, the player Khama Billiat was going to be if he was born in one of the major footballing nations in the world. Definitely a better, bigger, faster and fitter player.

The biggest challenge for Zimbabwe is to stop the player drain. Right now it looks like a truly futile battle.

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