THIS week, the much respected ESPNCricinfo, the world’s leading cricket website, published a special feature on “the players we think will dominate the decade,” naming in the article 20 emerging stars in the game under a main headline “20 cricketers for the 2020s”.
When you exclude recently-admitted Afghanistan and Ireland, only Zimbabwe – among the traditional Test-playing nations of world cricket — does not provide a player on the list selected by a strong panel of experts assigned by Cricinfo.
In truth, it does not look like a big deal that no Zimbabwean appears on that list, given the calibre of the men on the Cricinfo panel, and how their opinion on the world game carry so much weight: Tom Moody, Mike Hesson, Deep Dasgupta, HD Ackerman, Ian Bishop, AR Srikanth, Tim Wigmore, Russel Arnold, Paras Mhambrey, Hassan Cheema, Srinath Bhashyam, Tamim Iqbal, Andy Moles, Jarrod Kimber and Robin Peterson.
On top of that, cricket in Zimbabwe has recently been through one of its darkest periods, so a dearth of talent can be one of the consequences of such times.
But come to think of it, Afghanistan — who 10 years ago were not visible on the world cricket map — can now today provide four out of the 20 global prodigies predicted by some of the game’s finest brains to be the superstars of the next decade in this sport.
Amongst these is a hugely promising 15-year-old left-arm spinner called Noor Ahmad. Ahmad is an exciting talent, no doubt, having illuminated the scene at youth level, and playing Youth ODIs for Afghanistan’s Under-19 side at the age of 14.
Ahmad, though, has not yet played international cricket, so his choice is a bold one for someone who has not been tested at that level of the game. And while opinion is not fact, the experts of the game who have seen something in this kid to suggest he is a future star of world cricket are certainly entitled to their views. That is the beauty of sport. In due course, those predictions will be put to test.
But where a Zimbabwean cricket fan might want to challenge the views is that somebody like Ahmad has been preferred ahead of Wesley Madhevere, the gifted 19-year-old Zimbabwean cricketer who has already been capped and has shown huge promise in his early international career.
Players with no more than five Tests, seven ODIs and seven Twenty20 were eligible for selection by the Cricinfo team of experts.In three ODIs, Madhevere has an impressive average of 43.00.
Would it have been any different had a Zimbabwean, or somebody with connection to Zimbabwe, been part of Cricinfo’s panel of experts? Would they have, out of a sense of patriotism, included Madhevere?
This perhaps is neither here nor there, because irrespective of wherever the onlooker or evaluator comes from, the questions raised above don’t really answer this crucial one: is Madhevere a player for the future?
I will personally say yes, joining in the positive quite a number of locals who have had the privilege of witnessing the prodigious talents of a very young Wes since his early teens — a two-time Under-19 World Cup player who played in the first one four years ago when he was only 15.
Madhevere’s scores of 42, 52, and 35 in tough Asian subcontinent conditions late last year, where Zimbabwe’s senior batsmen struggled in the whitewash ODI defeat to Bangladesh, made people in the cricketing world sit up and take notice.
To grind out like that on your maiden overseas tour, in a debut international series, makes you a real find in any country and for Zimbabwe we have good reason to be excited about the future.
Madhevere’s attacking batting style is the hallmark of his game. But then he is also a very useful off-spinner and an energetic fielder — a potential match-winner for Zimbabwe in all three departments.
I eagerly look forward to the long international career of Madhevere, and I am hoping he can also have the same kind of promising starts to Test cricket as was in the limited overs.
If Madhevere gets a head-start in the red-ball format, as many anticipate, the elegant right-handed stroke-maker from Chitungwiza could be the source of many entertaining and long innings for Zimbabwe.