Zimbabwe seems to have come up with a ploy to fast-track young bowlers. Scan the country, select promising bowlers and rope them as net bowlers to bowl at national team’s batsmen in camps. As obvious it seems, it’s not a trend that most countries follow. Usually, bowlers from local clubs are asked to bowl, but Zimbabwe have approached it differently. The left-arm spinner Wellington Masakadza, who picked up a career-best 4 for 28 to help Zimbabwe beat Scotland, is a result of this system.
The 22-year old Wellington, the youngest brother of Zimbabwe’s captain Hamilton and Shingirai, a seamer who has also played for the country, was bowling in the nets last May before a tour of Pakistan. His impressive performance in the training sessions was taken into account, and a few months later, along with another net bowler Taurai Muzarabani, he played against Ireland.
With Hamilton away playing for the country, Wellington grew up with the other brother Shingirai. “My inspiration was Shingirai as we spent the most time together and he had taught me cricket basically,” Wellington said. In the past, he has also spoken about why he chose spin bowling — he wanted to be different from his brothers.
Wellington is from a long line-up of black Zimbabwean cricketers who have been produced by the system. In 1986, Lazarus Zizhao, a pioneer of black Zimbabwe cricket coaches and thus termed as the godfather of Zimbabwean cricket in many ways, was asked by the then cricket administration to teach cricket at grassroots. He was appointed as Development Coach for Highlands, Glen View and Glen Norah, and would teach 20 schools. He moved to Masvingo later but by then had set the base in places like Highlands, the second oldest African township. Zizhao was a fast bowler who was taught the game by the cricket-mad white headmaster of Highfield Community school, and he had the passion to cast the net wide and far to find young talents.
Years later, all that painstaking ground work would bear fruits. Wellington picked up cricket when he was 10 years old at the Mbizi primary school in Highlands before he moved to Churchill school, just like his brothers. Incidentally, Robert Mugabe, the ‘freedom fighter turned fearsome dictator’, used to teach at Mbizi school in the distant past.
Wellington fell in love with the game at Mbizi before honing his talents at Churchill. He was one of the young talents who came through the system, and ultimately finding his way at the nets of senior players. “It’s always a great feeling when you get such kind of a lift, especially when you come from low levels of cricket,” Wellington said about the nets experience that propelled him into the national team.
The then Zimbabwe coach Douglas Hondo, who too had started as a net bowler once, has spoken about the tactic of picking talented bowlers, and in particular Wellington, who showed the potential to play for country, to bowl in the nets. “It is a strategy and it’s working. We look at potential when we call them (to bowl at nets) and they have done well.”
It certainly worked for them on Thursday when Wellington turned a tight chase in his team’s favour. He showed a lot of heart to flight the ball, and had the intelligence to flatten the trajectory or rush the ball through as and when the occasion demanded. Set to chase 148 on a slow wicket that offered a bit of turn, Scotland’s George Munsey rushed off the blocks with two reverse-swept boundaries, forcing the short third man to drop back to the boundary, but he ran down the track next ball in search of another four. However, he had signalled his intentions a tad too early, and Wellington slipped it shorter to beat the bat and have him stumped.
By the time Wellington came back for his second spell, the chase had gotten tighter. Scotland’s captain Preston Mommsen was involved in a match-turning 51-run partnership with Berrington. He had dragged Scotland from 42 for 5 to 93 when Wellington stuck in the 15th over.
By then Mommsen was well settled and batting pretty fluently. And so, he had the confidence to back away to the left-arm spinner in an effort to lift it over the infield on the off side. But Wellington had slowed up this one, and Mommsen couldn’t adjust quickly, lost his timing, and could only scoop it to the extra cover fielder. You could sense that the chase lost its steam then. Just to make sure, Wellington got another wicket off the final ball of the over. A flighted delivery lured the new batsman Safywan Sharif to step down the track and the turn left him stranded.
Apart from Wellington’s skills, the game was noteworthy for two stunning catches. The first was snapped up by Scotland’s Michael Leask at long-off. He had initially failed to cusp the ball cleanly and it was threatening to bounce off his palms for a six but somehow he twisted his body behind even as he jumped, flung back his right hand and came down with the ball safely pouched in his palm. The second was taken by Sikander Raza in the chase. Kyle Coetzer had chipped one well clear of Raza at short cover but he took a deft step to his right and threw himself to catch it with his right hand.
Afghans set up Zim clash
The second game of the night threw up a facile win for Afghanistan, who restricted Hong Kong to 116 before the entertaining Mohammad Shahzad, who was a tad cautious to start with, and Noor Ali shared a 70-run opening partnership. Though both fell in quick succession, they had done enough to ensure Afghanistan would set up an all-important clash with Zimbabwe on Saturday — the winner of that contest will go through the main draw.
The tantalizing battle of that night could well turn out to be one between Shahzad and Wellington, between the man who lives on adrenaline rushes, and a young spinner who seems to find a way to use those chemical rushes in batsmen to his own advantage.
Group B: Zimbabwe 147/7 (S Willians 53; M Watt 2/21) beat Scotland 136 in 19.4 overs (R Berrington 36, P Mommsen 31; W Masakadza 4/28, D Tiripano 2/20) by 11 runs.
Group B: Hong Kong 116/6 (R Campbell 27, A Rath 28*; Md Nabi 4/20) lost to Afghanistan 119/4 in 18 overs (Md Shahzad 41 off 40, N Ali Zadran 32; R Campbell 2/28) by 6 wickets.