January 12, 2001

Eddo Brandes: still sending them down

Eddo Brandes talks to John Ward

Eddo Brandes, scourge of England, is still playing cricket at club level, having decided to give the game another season after he had originally planned to make last season his finale.

"I had retired, but then with Murray [Goodwin] going and also Neil Johnson, I thought that maybe I would have a bit more to offer Zimbabwe cricket," he says. "So I made myself available again and come out and played this season." And with some success too, as he regularly contributes with both bat and ball to Harare Sports Club's first-league match scorecards.

So far, though, there has been no response from the selectors, but Eddo is definitely available for international cricket should they want him. Realistically, though, this is unlikely unless he can produce something spectacular on a regular basis, especially in the forthcoming Logan Cup competition or the national side suffers a long list of injuries and loss of form. He is 38 in March, four months younger than Courtney Walsh and with much less mileage on the clock. But unlike Walsh he is no longer quite the best of the bunch, although still a fine bowler who bats well enough to be considered a genuine all-rounder at local level.

Eddo changed clubs at the start of the season, moving from Alexandra Sports Club to Harare Sports Club because of the better practice facilities available, he says, and "I did want to bowl more so I could be in a groove and bowl properly." At present he is not involved in any coaching, but does perform a sterling job in a `senior professional' role on the field, giving quiet encouragement and advice to the younger bowlers in his team. "Running my business and trying to play does take a bit of time," he explains, "so any spare time I have I try and devote to training and getting my game back to what it was, hopefully being able to perform."

Eddo has at times opened the batting for club sides, not just as a pinch-hitter but also because he is a genuine batsman at club level. Now he goes in at five or six and still takes the new ball. He has had no earth-shaking results yet this season but is notable for his consistency. "I've bowled really tightly, been swinging the ball and taking a few wickets," he says. "I think I've got 20 wickets at eight apiece this season, at about two runs an over. So the bowling's been going really well and I'm averaging 40 at the moment with the bat; nothing too dynamic, though I've got two fifties and two forties at the moment. Maybe I'm playing a bit more with my mind these days rather than with the exuberance of youth."

So how has his game changed over the years? "If anything it becomes more conservative," he says. "You try and eliminate mistakes, which I think is just part of growing up and happens generally in life. You think about things more clearly and back yourself to do the run-of-the-mill things more often." As his pace has lessened - he estimates he is bowling at about three-quarter pace - his reliance on subtlety and variation has increased. "We're just getting back after the Christmas period and I'd like to be at peak again for the Logan Cup, so I can hopefully produce some results when all the national side come back - maybe put in a good performance that has to be discussed."

Looking back at his career as a whole, what is Eddo's most memorable match? Certainly in international cricket there are several, mainly against England. His most famous international performances have been his four wickets in the World Cup victory over England in Australia in 1991/92, and his hat-trick that set the seal on a three-nil one-day series victory over the same opposition at home in 1996/97.

The hat-trick match is beyond comparison in Eddo's memory. "I'm sure there's only one memorable match and everyone knows about it," he smiles. "Obviously when I got that hat-trick it was a great day, but there have been some other great days which don't go down in the records. You might bowl a really long, tight spell and get no wickets for very few runs, but in the context of the game it was quite important to do that. Or you might come in and hit a quick 25, which doesn't sound a lot but in the context of the game means a lot. But a lot of those small isolated pieces are also memorable. But it's also memorable when you perform well as a team."

Great games to Eddo do not necessarily mean great personal performances. As an example of this, he says, "We had another great game in Hyderabad in my first World Cup." This was against New Zealand, when Zimbabwe lost by only three runs, thanks to a brilliant 142 by Dave Houghton that remains the record for Zimbabwe in one-day cricket. In that match Eddo was run out without scoring, injuring himself in the process, after bowling seven overs without taking a wicket, although economical. He also remembers "when we beat South Africa and when we qualified for the Super Six" - when he wasn't personally playing. "When we got Test cricket, our first Test. Nobody gave us a chance to do what we did, and we came out with a very honourable draw after scoring 456 in our first innings." Eddo actually recorded Zimbabwe's first Test `duck' in that match and broke down in his second over with a serious leg injury.

The hat-trick is special because it is such a rare feat. "It would definitely be the best day, with a great crowd and on the main stage," he says. Eddo became a national hero, which has not always been the case, as he has suffered more of his share of injuries and been the butt of sarcastic comments at times about what many saw as lack of fitness and commitment. The hat-trick really won him the hearts of the Zimbabwean public.

Eddo has had to play most of his cricket this season without the challenge of confronting national players, who have been abroad most of the time. Has he noted any promising youngsters? "There is a bit of talent around; guys are coming through," he says. "I think [Campbell] McMillan [Zimbabwe Under-19] appears to be a good prospect on the bowling side. A left-arm spinner from Queens - Engelbrecht - seems to have some potential. Batsmen - speaking of Sports Club we have two Under-19s that look promising. I think that little batter from Winstonians - Stuart Matsikenyeri - looks as if he has a bit of talent.

"But I don't think any of the youngsters, to be honest, have put in many real performances. They're getting twenties and thirties and forties; they're not getting hundreds. It's not good enough, if you want to be putting pressure on the selectors for a place in the team. You have to be producing results. The bowlers in one-day cricket bowl three or four good overs and then they travel; I haven't seen too many people go for under 40 [in ten overs] in the league. I'm talking mainly from Sports Club but also from other teams. The consistency is not there. That obviously comes with age, but if the youngsters want to put pressure on the selectors they have to get that consistency going very quickly to be able to play at a young age."

He is quite happy with the success enjoyed by Harare Sports Club this season. They have a young side - but so do many others when the national players are away - and are in the middle of the national league table with four victories and three defeats at the time of writing. "We have two games left, and if we win those we can get into the semi-finals, and from there anything can happen. We're still in with a chance of winning the national knockout, and we're third in the Vigne Cup [for Mashonaland teams]."

Eddo is probably the world's most famous chicken farmer, although he has struggled a bit, along with everybody else, in Zimbabwe's current economic crisis. He remains philosophical about it: "We've just got to get through the bad times and hopefully the good times will roll on quickly - which I'm sure they will."

Is he hoping for a final fling against Bangladesh, India and West Indies, who will all be touring Zimbabwe this year? "I don't like to see it as a final fling," he says. "Two years ago they were asking, What have I got to offer? - I'm past it, I'm too old. Last year I got one Test match and according to everyone I played really well. If that attitude hadn't been there I would have had two more years of being involved and available for selection. So if I have a good run in Logan Cup who's to be saying I won't be playing the following year? I just feel that as long as I've got something to offer, even if it's just to keep the top players honest, I can keep going."

So Eddo is keeping his options open, and the scourge of England may yet be heard of again in international cricket.