Hamilton Masakadza is a name that is synonymous with Zimbabwean cricket. After being an active player for his county over a 19-year-period, scoring over 2,000 Test runs, 5,658 ODI runs and taking 39 wickets in ODIs, Masakadza is one of Zimbabwe’s most successful players.
Over the course of his career, alongside opening the batting for the Chevrons, Masakadza gained domestic experience in Zimbabwe with a number of teams, spending the longest time at the Mountaineers after joining them in 2009 but then also gained domestic experience in Bangladesh and Afghan competitions.
Following his retirement in 2019, Masakadza then swapped the cricket field for a boardroom becoming Zimbabwe Cricket’s first Director of Cricket. This is not the only change that Zimbabwe Cricket has seen over recent times. With both long time servants Solomon Mire and Graeme Cremer leaving the international set up, an ICC suspension that was then reversed and a number of cancelled series due to the ongoing pandemic, it has definitely been a turbulent period Zimbabwe’s governing body.
But, there have been some major underlying issues surrounding cricket in Zimbabwe that has seen the national team fall down the world rankings. Currently, the country sits at the bottom of of the ICC Test rankings, 14th in the ICC ODI rankings and 11th in the ICC T20 rankings; compared to the team who at one point sat 7th, 8th and 9th in retrospective rankings. One of the potentially major reasons for the downturn in results may be due to a talent drain that is facing the national side. Currently, there are a number of cricketers who despite being eligible for Zimababwe’s men’s team, have made the decision to not make themselves available for selection. However, what may be more worrying to fans of the African nation’s team is that there are young players who are either signing deals which makes them ineligible for international selection, or who have signaled their desire to play cricket for another nation. One of the most recent players to make such a decision is Eddie Byrom who is playing in the English county system for Somerset.
Byrom was quoted by ‘The Cricketer’ stating: ‘I really want to play for England. Zimbabwe was great for me, I’m very thankful for all my coaches and people that worked with me there but I have really committed to wanting to play for England for quite some time now. That is the route I am committing to and working towards’. Whilst any individual’s decision must be respected, along with their privacy about why the decision was made, Byrom provides another example of another exciting talent leaving Zimbabwe’s national pool. Without the ability to pay players as well as other countries (or counties) and a potential lack of exposure, there is a need for change in Zimbabwe Cricket and the country’s domestic system to enable that the talent drain is plugged.
Masakadza may be a key individual in helping The Chevrons to keep their brightest talents available for selection. Recently, Masakadza elaborated to The Herald about what his current roles entailed and how he sees his role. Zimbabwe’s first-ever Director of Cricket sees his role as one that expands past an office, as quoted Masakadza stated that he sees his role as one which ‘includes interfacing directly with the younger cricketers, in terms of their skills, and their development as players.”
‘I think I have a lot to share because of the experience I had playing, the time I spent in cricket, everything I have learnt, I have got a lot to share with the guys’, he continued. Young cricketers are already being inspired according to Masakadza and there is the potential that if young players are able to see their role model in person and interact with him during their development that they will see the benefits about representing Zimbabwe on the international stage.
There are some already positive signs from within Zimbabwe with young talent gaining attention both internationally and domestically. During 2020, prior to the U19 World Cup, the Zimbabwe U19 team played against the U19 team from South Africa in a warm-up match. The senior Zimbabwean men’s team have only beaten South Africa twice during ODIs, however, during the warm-up game, there was a sign that the talent in Zimbabwe is not to be written off. Zimbabwe won the game by 31 runs with the team being aided by a number of impressive performances including Dion Myers who scored 70 off 76 balls, Wesley Madhevere who scored 55 off 59 balls and player of the match Tadiwanashe Nyangani who took 5 wickets. The impressive Wesley Madhevere also made his debut for the full national side during 2020 and made an impact with both bat and ball in a series against Bangladesh; currently averaging 43 with the bat. There were many other fantastic performances during the 2020 edition of the U19 World Cup and despite finishing eleventh in the tournament, there were a lot of positives to take from the performances. On a domestic front, Joylord Gumbie having an extremely impressive for The Mountaineers.
Whilst it is not being argued that Masakadza will be able to fix all of Zimbabwe Crickets problems single-handedly, there is an argument that young players being given the opportunity to work alongside and feel the presence of such an inspirational character will be a huge asset. Players actually being able to hear listen to advice from one of the countries greatest ever cricketers may be the difference between a player being determined to represent Zimbabwe compared to looking for opportunities abroad.
Putting the case of Masakadza in the context of other developing cricket nations, there must be the hope that other players who have been influential members of a national team will then reintegrate themselves into their respective cricketing systems. It is not a prerequisite to have played international cricket to work within a national association. Instead, arguably, a mix of cricketers and non-cricketers create the most efficient kind of environment as individuals bring their different perspectives to drive progress.
If associations are able to keep players who have made an impact on the field within their system then it could help to inspire and reignite players passion to represent smaller nations. It will be interesting to watch over the progress made by the young talent’s of Zimbabwe and to see if Masakadza is able to help put a block in the talent drain.
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