April 25, 2002

Brighton Watambwa - a biography

FULL NAME: Brighton Tonderai Watambwa
BORN: At Harare, 9 June 1977
MAJOR TEAMS: Mashonaland A (1997/98); Mashonaland (1999/2000 to date); Zimbabwe Board XI (1998/99 to date). Present club team: Harare Sports Club
KNOWN AS: Brighton Watambwa. Nicknames: Bulb, Spikey, Slim
BOWLING STYLE: Right Arm Fast Medium
OCCUPATION: Professional cricketer

FIRST-CLASS DEBUT: 28-30 August 1997; Mashonaland A v Mashonaland, at Harare South Country Club
TEST DEBUT: Still awaited
ODI DEBUT: Still awaited

BIOGRAPHY (updated April 2002)

Brighton Watambwa is one of Zimbabwe's young black pace bowlers who has improved steadily until he broke through into the Test team during 2001/02. This followed a real impact in the Board XI matches in the UCBSA Bowl Competition during the previous season. Tall and gangling, he generates a good pace and has developed his skills to the point where he is now able to trouble the top batsmen.

Like most other emerging black players, Brighton has no family background in cricket. His interest first came at primary school, when he had the good fortune to attend Lilfordia Primary School a short distance to the west of Harare, where his headmaster was Iain Campbell, father of Test player Alistair. He started playing in about Grade Three, and many will be surprised to learn that throughout his schooldays he was better known as a batsman than a bowler, although he did bowl regularly and quickly. It was not until he played club cricket, where the limited-over game rules and promising players are so often placed in the lower middle order where they get very little opportunity to bat that he began to concentrate on bowling.

At Lilfordia he spent three years in the school colts team and a further two in the seniors. He remembers scoring his first fifty in Grade Five but cannot remember his highest score. He does remember taking nine cheap wickets in an innings in one match. He did well enough to be chosen for the national primary schools team, which played a match against the previous year's team. "That was hard cricket because they were a lot older than I and I wasn't as quick as I thought I was," he says.

For high school he attended Falcon College, nursery of so many of Zimbabwe's recent top players. Unlike the others, though, he does not have very good memories of his cricket there. He played for his age-group first teams for his first three years there and the school second team in Form Four, before progressing to the first team for his final two years. "When you play for a strong side and someone always scores runs and someone always takes wickets, you have to share everything around," he says. His only representative cricket was for the Matabeleland Under-16 team in Form Three; he was injured during much of his final year when he might have had ambitions for the national schools team.

He finished his schooling with a year at St John's College in Harare in 1996, when he played Under-19 cricket for Mashonaland and was in the national squad for that age-group. He had a much more enjoyable year, succeeding mainly as an opening batsman, scoring several fifties and averaging in the thirties, and also bowling well enough to win the school's all-rounder of the year award. He got full colours in one year, which he believes is a unique achievement. He also played in the Zone Six cricket tournament for Africa that was hosted by Zimbabwe that year.

In his final two years at Falcon he played for Bulawayo Athletic Club without achieving anything outstanding, but when he moved to St John's he joined Harare Sports Club and immediately struck gold with some fine performances, even recording a fifty in one match. He has stayed with the club ever since, with his best performance a six-wicket haul a couple of years back.

After leaving St John's he took a gap year in 1997, when he coached at Bryden School in Chegutu, and also made his Logan Cup debut for Mashonaland A. The following year he attended Rhodes University in South Africa where he played a lot of cricket and won a place in the South African Universities team after being joint top wicket-taker in the Universities Week.

Back in Zimbabwe in 1999, he attended the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai with Dennis Lillee and played against the touring England A team. Shortly afterwards he was selected for the Zimbabwe Board XI in the UCBSA Bowl competition. He has played frequently for that team ever since, with the 2000/01 season proving his best. He remembers a particularly good match at Harare South the previous season, though, against Northerns, when he felt at the top of his game and bowled as well as he has ever done, yet took only three wickets.

"I think a bit of soul-searching has brought about an improvement this season," he said at the time. "I've had a bit of trouble with injuries in the past and I have come to accept that I had to change a few things in my action. I've done that, and since I've come back from injury I've been thinking a lot more about my game. I've slowed my run-up and brought about a slight change in my action, and they seem to be working out well for me." The need to slow down his run-up was first suggested to him by Robin Jackman when he was in Zimbabwe several years ago, and this was confirmed by Lillee and the Sri Lankan Rumesh Ratnayake who also coached him in Chennai, and followed him up when he played for the Zimbabwe A team in Sri Lanka during 2000/01.

He is uncertain whether he is actually bowling as fast as ever he has done, as he recalls a school match for St John's against Churchill where he feels he bowled as quickly as he has ever done. "But I think right now I'm bowling with more consistent pace than I have ever done," he says. "I'm a genuine swinger of the ball [predominantly away from the bat], though, and I think that's my main strength. Most of my wickets are bowled or caught behind."

He spent the 2000 season in Hertfordshire in England, playing for a club called Langbury. He took two five-wicket hauls for them and was their top wicket-taker. He has been injury-prone at times, struggling most with his groin and quadriceps. He is now a fulltime professional cricketer with the Zimbabwe Cricket Union.

Brighton was eased into Test cricket against Bangladesh, making their first tour of Zimbabwe in April 2001, replacing Henry Olonga. He began shakily, but took his first wicket when he had Naimur Rahman caught in the slips. He took nine wickets in the two Tests, and another three in the First Test against India in June, and looked to have gained a permanent Test place.

Then came personal tragedy. In the Second Test against India, at Harare Sports Club, he took a crucial early wicket, but then tore a hamstring, limped off the field, and that ended his season. He was working hard to get fit for the new season, but then had knee problems, on top of which he tore a quadricep muscle in his right leg.

When he was finally fit to play club cricket again in October, he was quickly put into the Board XI team as the selectors were eager to have him back in Test cricket. It proved to be a long, slow haul to recovery, but he was eventually selected for the tour to India in February. He had little success on the dead pitches there. He followed this with selection for Zimbabwe A in the triangular tournament in Namibia, where he found the pitches a little more helpful. He took a few wickets in Logan Cup cricket, but his main concern was to hold out until the end of the season without further injury, and then enjoy a long break to recover his strength.

His batting is unrecognized to the point where he usually goes in at number eleven. His highest score in any class of cricket is 89 in a Country Districts match for Selous or Chegutu, teams he represented for winter cricket at times in the past. He has taken eight wickets in an innings two or three times, but never equalled his nine at junior school.

When fielding, he prefers the covers but is usually to be found on the boundary when bowling. "I like fielding," he says. "It's a very big part of my game. I'm very quick and I like to think of myself as a very good fielder as well."

Cricket heroes: Dennis Lillee, Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose, "and I do admire Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee, the genuine quicks in this world."

Toughest opponents: "Andy Flower. Maybe Mark Vermeulen."

Personal ambitions: "To play for Zimbabwe as soon as possible - and stay there! I want to open the bowling for Zimbabwe in both one-day games and Test matches. I'll work on my batting, but I'll look for my bowling to do the talking for me, because I am in essence a fast bowler."

Proudest achievement so far: "My selection for South African Universities."

Best friends in cricket: "I get on well with most guys and don't really have a problem with anybody."

Other qualifications: "I did my first-year Bachelor of Commerce and then dropped out to carry on playing cricket. My parents wanted me to go back to university this year, but then the ZCU offered me a contract and my parents agreed with that, so everything seems to be working out okay at the moment."

Other sports: "At varsity I played a lot of soccer. I played a lot of hockey at school as well, and just generally all ball sports. I played a bit of rugby until I got a bit small for the heavy guys. The only sport I can say I never really liked is swimming. I've played tennis and I play a lot of squash nowadays. I now play social tennis and a little bit of soccer."

Outside interests: "Reading, movies, music and junk food."