February 22, 2002

Gus MacKay: fastest century

Big-hitting all-rounder Gus Mackay, at the age of 34, reached a century off 45 balls in the Logan Cup match against Matabeleland last weekend. The record for a genuine first-class century is 34 balls, by Australian David Hookes, and we are still awaiting news from statisticians as to exactly where Gus's ton stands on the all-time list. He talks to CricInfo about the match and his recent career, starting with a slightly disappointing tour to Australia for the Carlton and United series a year ago.

Match result: At Bulawayo Athletic Club. Mashonaland (644 and 82/2) beat Matabeleland (392 and 333) by eight wickets.

The tour to Australia was a very difficult tour and I ended up playing only three one-dayers. I learned from it and I wish I had been given more opportunities since then, especially as I feel I am playing better now than I did before I went to Australia, both in domestic cricket and now in first-class cricket. But selection policies dictate otherwise.

In that final one-day match against Australia at Perth, there had been talk in the changing room of sending me in at the end of our run-chase, but they decided to go with experience. I didn't actually get a chance to bat in any of the one-dayers - that's the way it goes.

Since then, I feel my game has improved probably because I want to finish my career at the top; I want to do well personally; I've set myself more goals probably than I ever have before. I want to help whichever team I'm playing for to do well, be it Old Georgians or Mashonaland. My goal of a first-class hundred I've achieved now, and there are other milestones I want to achieve just so I can say I have done it, and done it at the highest level.

I think it's more of an improvement mentally than technically; I think it's having more determination, and also having been neglected by the selectors, I think it gives any player the inspiration to do well and prove a point. You know in your own mind, and the people around you know that you're still good enough to play, whether at international or A-side level. I fully agree with integration and bringing on young players, but I still think you have to pick the best side. I think it has actually spurred me on more than ever that I feel I have a point to prove.

I think a disappointing fact about playing in Bulawayo is that this is first-class cricket that we are playing, and I believe first-class cricket should be played on the best possible grounds. I think it is disappointing that the games aren't being played at Queens; when we have games in Harare they are played at Sports Club and one of the Mashonaland teams uses Sports Club as its home ground. If it had been a three-day game we wouldn't have got a result because it's a very flat wicket.

But the overall facilities aren't up to standard either, and I think the Bulawayo people know that. I would certainly like to see first-class matches being played at Queens. It would change the game when we play there because the pitch won't be as flat, it will do a bit for bowlers as well. It's just a batting paradise at BAC, and Queens will probably do a bit more.

(Note: We hear that there was an agreement that, when cricket was moved from BAC as it was not up to Test match standard, BAC would still retain the right to host other first-class matches. It is believed there are now moves to play all matches at Queens at some time in the near future.)

We had a young side for this match, with just three experienced players, and Darlington Matambanadzo to a certain extent. It's the duty of the senior players to help develop these youngsters, for the betterment of the team and of Zimbabwe cricket. We've set ourselves the goal of wanting to play position cricket, and I set a minimum of three runs an over, so at the end of the day's play we would have been happy with anything around 300 or 320. As it turned out, we got a lot more than that. [427 for six.]

Their bowling was a bit wayward and I don't believe they bowled to a plan. They didn't bowl in the channels, and I'm a firm believer in that, and they didn't get enough balls in the right areas. Craig Evans batted pretty well for his 118; we were three down for 96 and he came and steadied the ship. The next day I came in and had a bit of luck, dropped a couple of times, and managed to get that maiden hundred.

It was one of those days when the ball came out of the middle of the bat, and we wanted to get as big a score as quickly as possible, and bat them out of the game, which was what we did. By the time I came in the ball was old and they didn't bowl to me as they should have done: they bowled a lot of length balls, which is what I like, instead of perhaps trying to bowl in the blockhole.

My innings didn't tire me for bowling, as I didn't do much running! 92 of those 108 runs were scored in boundaries, and they have short boundaries at BAC. A couple of times the ball went into people's houses and we had a few breathers in between. After making my international debut and playing one-day cricket, I think my nest highlight was getting a first-class hundred. It was very hot in Bulawayo but I'm always inspired when I'm bowling, especially when I'm captain as well. We knew it was going to be a long grind and we had to bowl properly.

Gavin Ewing I thought bowled well throughout the game, and the young Greg Strydom, who is only 17 - those two in particular have a lot of potential. Mathew Townshend I thought was a little disappointing, but I think he's struggling a bit with his action at the moment. But they have a young side which is quite inexperienced. The beauty of four-day cricket is that the younger players will only get better and better, because it is a long time to bat and be in the field; we ended up being in the field for almost 200 overs. There's the mental as well as the physical side of it to cope with as well.

It was a good team performance as well, apart from on the third day when we went a whole session without taking a wicket, thanks to a couple of dropped catches. But we came out after lunch and picked up four wickets in the space of about half an hour, which turned the whole game round. We bowled well in parts, badly in others, and I think for the remaining games we will get it right.

Blessing Mahwire I thought bowled very well; the spinners bowled better as the game went on. Blessing has just come back from the bowling academy in India with Dennis Lillee; he is a really nice youngster who wants to do well and I think he's the sort of guy who will get better and better the more he bowls. He showed signs of improvement in the game and ended up with eight wickets; he went for a few runs in the second innings because we were trying different things.

Darlington was good in patches, and I think he's improved as a cricketer. Young Simon Seager, son of Mike, I thought also bowled quite well. Guys like Ryan Butterworth and Rogers have a lot of potential, but perhaps just need to apply themselves a little more and get bigger scores. There is a lot of learning to be done by the youngsters, and that as they mature and we play more cricket and longer games, they will only get better.

Regarding the batting, I think our openers in the first innings got themselves in and then got themselves out. Barney Rogers batted well but gave it away in the nineties; Blessing Mahwire also got himself in and then got himself out. But overall it was a good team performance.

Kudzai Taibu got 40 in the second innings, but I think he was nervous in the first innings, on his first-class debut. But I think he has a lot of potential and that he's a player we can work with and make something of him. I think he's done quite well in league, which is obviously the reason why he's been picked.

On the Matabeleland side I think Strydom and Ewing in particular have a lot of potential, and it was nice for Ewing especially as he was I think not accepted at the Academy last year as he was overweight. But it looks like he has a golden ambition and wants to play cricket; he's working really hard at his game and both batted and bowled well.

My honest opinion is that we need to play more four-day cricket. I believe we should be playing at home and away throughout the season and we should have a final at the end of it. We should be looking at a minimum of ten first-class games. The ultimate goal is Test cricket, which is played over five days, and the only way we are going to get players up to that standard is by playing the longer game.

I think we play a bit too much one-day cricket and perhaps we need to restructure our national league so we can fit in more four-day games. I also believe that at provincial level there should be a one-day competition; there used to be, so it needs to be reintroduced and played at around Christmas time, when we would have a break and play one-day cricket with a white ball and coloured clothing.

I think, if we did have more four-day cricket, those of us who have other jobs can make a plan, and our game is going more towards professionalism as more players are contracted. I think that is a factor and people will work round it if they're keen enough and want to play the game.