We were as good as anybody - Pswarayi

HARARE - Bernard Pswarayi, a fast bowler of rare talent in his heyday, believes Zimbabwe missed out on a generation of fine black cricketers who were either ignored by selectors, or were not given an opportunity to cement their places in the national side. 

Now working and living in South Africa, 39-year-old Pswarayi opened up to the Daily News last week about his frustrations over what he termed systematic racism which prevented him from playing for his country during his prime, failures of the current Zimbabwe Cricket leadership, his assessment of the current national squad, among other issues affecting the game in the country. 

Pswarayi is deeply convinced, looking back, that in addition to Henry Olonga and Mpumelelo Mbangwa – the only regular black players in the Zimbabwe team in the mid to late 90s – more players of colour merited places in the team during that era.  

“A good crop of black players was starting to emerge during those days in the 90s,” Pswarayi says.

“As you know, Olonga was a very regular fixture for Zimbabwe. Over the years we saw Mbangwa, who also had a good career for Zimbabwe. Then followed Everton Matambanadzo, Trevor Madondo and David Mutendera.

“Incidentally, I feel Madondo and Mutendera never got a fair crack of the whip when they did get selected, getting picked and left out regularly and never getting a real chance to settle and develop. I juxtapose this with some of our white players of the time who never seemed to get dropped no matter what the form. Form is a fickle thing and one is not always on top of his game. But if you check the records of some of the white players and their career averages, you will be shocked to see they seldom were dropped during their career lifetime, unless perhaps through injury. The system seemed very unfair here.”

Pswarayi gives a detailed analysis of several non-white cricketers he believes were national team material at the inception of Test cricket up to the late 1990s.

“I challenge anyone to give me a player who had the control and brain to bowl out-swingers like George Tandi in the 90s,” he says.

“Always putting the ball in that channel of uncertainty, while getting the ball to flicker away and then straight. He caused a lot of problems for batsmen.

“Trevor Madondo (late). A very gifted batsman who did not nearly get enough of an opportunity to play for Zimbabwe, although he did play a few games.

“Clive Chadani. It is ridiculous to think this man was allowed to lose hope and leave the game. Short in stature, he was assured and confident in play. We would later see another similar player in (Tatenda) Taibu, but this guy had ability in buckets.

“There was an Indian guy called Hitesh Hira. He played several Zimbabwe A and first-class games, he just did not seem to catch the eye of the selectors. He was a seam bowler with control and experience, and he could hold a bat.

“Then there was Andrew Mutuda. Few know this guy, but he is partly to blame. He never really gave his all to the game, but he had raw talent as a left-arm quick. He had a nasty length that he bowled at pace with, the ball going across the body.

“And then of course, Brighton Watambwa. Another highly talented if somewhat distracted player. He needed a mentor to kick him into shape. He had the pace of Olonga, had more height and he had more control when he bowled. He walked away from the scene far too early.”

Born in Highfield and partly raised in Chivhu, Pswarayi also credits, for his early development, two former national team seamers.

“I played virtually my whole career at Harare Sports Club, but I did have a stint at Universal Sports Club where I wanted to see whether a change of club would improve my game and my fortunes to play for the national team,” he says. “I soon returned to Harare Sports Club, they had a training system and philosophy in the game that suited me. In addition, access to some former greats like Eddo Brandes and Malcolm Jarvis was invaluable for my development.”

Schooled at Peterhouse College on a sports scholarship, Pswarayi developed quickly enough to earn provincial colours soon after leaving school.

“In my day there was not a strong development programme from the union. In the early 90s it was the school system you found yourself in that had the greatest influence on your cricket. Clearly you needed to have your own drive and desire to be the best. However, I can tell you players like George Tandi did come through the development system of the union, but they were few and far between,” he says.

With cricket in Zimbabwe having lurched from one crisis to another, Pswarayi says the rebels saga, where 15 white players were sacked by the then ZCU board for staging a walk-out over a selection dispute, was “a low point for the game.”

Pswarayi says the rebels made a mistake by “trying to force the hand of the union.”

“When the wave of protest grew and change started to happen, I think certain quarters were not happy with the loss of control and they instigated the rebel walkout. My view is that Zimbabwe Cricket is a body that controls and runs cricket in the country. Every cricketing country has one. The rebels, through perhaps a player body, should have engaged the union, not make ultimatums and walkout. This was a low point for the game in Zim.”

For Zimbabwe to become world beaters, it must “rebuilt and polish a destroyed brand and put the structures back in place for us to produce excellence.”

“Zimbabwe needs to go back to the drawing board and focus on developing the game in general and the youngsters in particular,” says Pswarayi. “It is crazy to think that we are discovering talent at age of 17 and 18. It is too late to develop these guys into world-class cricketers at this time, it is far too late. Put systems in place to develop talent at age 8 to 10. This is when you get taught how to hold a cricket ball, not when you are playing club cricket.

“A serious relook must be taken at the administration and if necessary some restructuring. Slim down the administration and throw more resources at development, coaching and facilities. Cricketers are the lifeblood of the organisation, if we are not developing these, the administrators should not have jobs. If we do not develop world-class players, countries will not tour Zimbabwe, sponsors will not come forward, funding will dry up. We can see it happening now.

“I know funding has become an issue, but I feel our guys are not nearly playing enough cricket at virtually every level of cricket from Under-15. There should more interprovincial cricket at younger levels where talent plays against talent from an earlier stage, this will also make talent spotting easier. We also need more cricket with South Africa, Namibia and Kenya at provincial and A team level for exposure to take the mystique away from touring. Invite friendly cricketing countries with large budgets like India to tour Zimbabwe and give us much needed exposure.”

Administration issues aside, the talent in the current Zimbabwe squad excites Pswarayi.

“Brendan Taylor is a world-class player with great temperament,” he says of the Zimbabwe captain before taking a closer look at other players he regards the backbone of the team. 

“Hamilton Masakadza blazed a trail as a youth. He is now as a senior who is established, but he needs to grow his average and continue to show his class.

“Tino Mawoyo. I like what I see. Very talented with a great future. An organised opening batsman.

“Then you have Vusi Sibanda. Possibly our most dangerous player on his day. Buckets of ability, perhaps he needs to be stronger mentally.

“What of Elton Chigumbura? Confident and accomplished, but his average does not do him justice. Great ability, but he needs to want it more. Very solid player.

“There is also the young pace bowler, Tendai Chatara, who is very impressive. He has a simple and strong bowling action which is good. He can possibly add another yard or two of pace if he works at it. I like his control and the bounce he extracts from the wicket.

“Then there is Tinashe Panyangara. We lost him for a few years when he had showed tremendous potential as a quick bowler who could bowl out swing. He is back a little slower, but seemingly more mature and thoughtful.”

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