January 19, 2002

Mpumelelo Mbangwa - Biography

FULL NAME: Mpumelelo Mbangwa
BORN: 26 June 1976, Plumtree
MAJOR TEAMS: Zimbabwe (1996/97- ), Matabeleland (1995/96 to date). Present club team: Queens Sports Club (Bulawayo)
KNOWN AS: `Pom' or `Pommie' Mbangwa
BOWLING STYLE: Right Arm Medium Fast
OCCUPATION: Professional cricketer

FIRST-CLASS DEBUT: Matabeleland v Mashonaland, at Harare Sports Club, 15 September 1995
TEST DEBUT: Second Test v Pakistan, at Faisalabad, 1996/97
ODI DEBUT: 1 November 1996, v Pakistan, at Lahore

BIOGRAPHY (updated January 2002)

Mpumelelo Mbangwa is known simply as `Pommie' or `Pom', a shortened form of his first name and not due to the fact that he did at one time attend an English school. After a remarkable rise to prominence at the age of 20, he now seems to have become one of the forgotten men of Zimbabwe cricket, as his style of bowling, however successfully accomplished, does not seem to fit into the selectors' plans. But Pommie's success is all the more remarkable as he has no family background in cricket, although his parents support him today.

Pommie was first introduced to the game at the age of about ten, at the Rhodes Estate Preparatory School. A keen sportsman, he played all sports available from choice, but soon found he had a great aptitude for cricket. He won a place in the school team at the age of 11, and has been playing competitively since then. Although he has yet to make many runs at first-class level, he was also a useful batsman at school, and always tried to bowl quick. He was selected for the Matabeleland primary schools team in his final year at junior school, and played in the primary schools week.

Moving on to Milton High School, he concentrated primarily on cricket throughout, in preference to rugby or any other sport. His housemaster there, Mr Ian Kemp, took a special interest in him, helped to groom his bowling action, and has been his mentor to the present day. Pommie even opened the batting on occasions, and played an innings of 113 in an inter-school match at the age of 14; this remains his highest score in any class of cricket, and gave hope that he might develop into more of an all-rounder. In adult cricket so far, these hopes have been completely in vain, although he now feels he is beginning to make progress with that side of his game.

Pommie was selected for the Fawns, the national Under-15 team, and also went on tour to Namibia with them, and in his two sixth-form years played for the Matabeleland Schools team, although not the national schools side. During this season the English school team Dean Close, from Cheltenham, was touring Zimbabwe, and Pommie did well in the match against them, taking four wickets in their total of 72. After the presentations at the end of the match, their master spoke to Mr Kemp and offered Pommie a place at their school, mainly to play cricket - in fact, as a type of cricket scholarship.

Pommie was eager to seize the opportunity, and so spent the 1995 English season playing for Dean Close. He was appointed captain and enjoyed a good all-round performance: he scored 446 runs at an average of 31.85, with a highest score of 72 not out, and took 36 wickets at an average of 16.00. He studied physical education at A-level while there and found it an enjoyable and invaluable experience. He returned in time for the start of the next Zimbabwean season, and this time he was selected for the national schools team that played in the cricket week in South Africa.

He soon made an impression in that 1995/96 season, although it was rarely reflected in his actual results. He was a natural selection for the Matabeleland Logan Cup team, immediately after his return from England, strengthening an already powerful pace attack of Heath Streak, Henry Olonga and John Rennie. He also played for the Zimbabwe Board XI in the UCBSA competition, and for various select sides against the Tasmanian and Yorkshire visiting teams. This made a total of ten matches, quite remarkable for a local player without any international appearances. He took a total of only 18 wickets in those matches, averaging over 37, but his potential made a big impression. In March 1996 he went to Madras for coaching by Dennis Lillee; on his return he was offered a place in the Plascon Academy in South Africa, which he attended from April to September 1996, and had intensive coaching from such fine former players as Clive Rice and Hylton Ackerman.

He was surprised to be chosen for the Zimbabwe tour of Pakistan, coming in due to the injury to Heath Streak and unavailability of Eddo Brandes. He found Pakistan a very different country; "it was quite an experience and it was quite hard," he says. "I was very nervous on the tour but I hoped to do well." With Henry Olonga also breaking down, Pommie found himself thrust into the forefront of the Zimbabwean attack, along with Everton Matambanadzo. Although nerves prevented him from bowling with the control he would have wished, he took the vital wickets of Ijaz Ahmed and Wasim Akram. He felt much happier about his bowling in the second innings, when Pakistan were trying to knock off the 67 runs they needed for victory in as quick a time as they could. Although he failed to take a wicket, Pommie forced both Saeed Anwar and Aamer Sohail to play and miss, and he bowled seven fine overs for just 14 runs.

With the return of Streak, Brandes and Olonga, Pommie never had the chance to play an international during the England tour, although he was always in the frame. His main ambition was to establish himself in the team, a difficult task when there was so much competition, and to become a professional cricketer. The one reservation many people have about his bowling is that it is a little short of the top pace, but Pommie sees himself primarily as a line-and-length bowler, a master of seam and swing, with the away-swinger his stock ball. He has also now developed the inswinger, which he uses occasionally.

He felt that the 1996/97 season went satisfactorily for him, but that there was still room for improvement. During the off season he again went to England, and played for Bourton Vale in the Cotswolds. The training he underwent there, he felt, assisted his progress in the following season. He received no international opportunities against New Zealand, though, despite the injuries to several other pace bowlers, although he was bowling well, and this is a result of the new depth in talent in Zimbabwe cricket. He did go to Kenya, but the pitches were unsuitable for him and he only played in two matches, dismissing both Kenyan openers in the second match.

He was selected for the tours of Sri Lanka and New Zealand, but was still unable to hold down a regular place. In Sri Lanka he did not find the pitches really suitable for his bowling, although he played in one Test match, taking three wickets, and one one-day international, where he was expensive and unsuccessful, as was his experience in the only one-day international he played in out of five in New Zealand. He did play in both Tests, though, and impressed with his consistent accuracy, taking four wickets, all in the top four.

Returning to Zimbabwe, he played both Tests against Pakistan, and performed admirably. So accurate was his bowling that the Pakistanis were quite unable to get him away, and in the Bulawayo Test he bowled 45 overs for only 54 runs and three wickets. Another three followed in Harare, when he again conceded fewer than two runs per over. He was less successful in the one-day matches, though, actually conceding 72 runs in his 10 overs in the second. With his comparative lack of pace and predictability, he was reckoned to be more of a Test than a one-day bowler. He went on to play in three of the four one-day internationals in the triangular tournament in India, also involving Australia, though, with fair results.

He worked very hard at his game during the 1998 off-season, continuing to learn all the time and getting assistance and advice from others. This was to bring him great reward. Despite a comparative lack of success in the one-day series at home against India, he played in the one-off Test that was to result in Zimbabwe's second victory in Test cricket. Although overshadowed by the pace bowling of Heath Streak and Henry Olonga, he played a crucial part in the win, which probably could not have been achieved without him. His accuracy in the second innings prevented the Indians from recovering when the strike bowlers rested, and his three wickets for 41 runs were the best of the innings.

He lost his one-day place, apart from occasional appearances, but performed a similar role in Zimbabwe's Test victory in Pakistan. Again Streak and Olonga took the headlines, but Pommie gave them superb backing, with three cheap wickets in both innings, turning in the best match bowling figures for Zimbabwe with six for 63. Although he took no wickets in the Second Test, he was now high in the world Test bowling rankings, with 24 wickets at an average of less than 25.

Pommie, who had not been happy with his bowling before that First Test, found the seamers' pitches of Pakistan helpful to his bowling and soon found his rhythm. He was particularly pleased to bowl out Moin Khan with his rare off-cutter in the second innings: the batsman played for the away-swinger and got an inside edge on to his stumps.

That was the end of Zimbabwe's Test cricket for some time, and Pommie worked hard to improve his one-day bowling, concentrating simply on keeping the runs down. He had little success in the triangular tournament in Bangladesh that also included Kenya, but on his return to Zimbabwe was the most impressive bowler in a hastily arranged three-match series against the Australian Cricket Academy.

Selected for the World Cup, he also bowled very well in the warm-up matches, but was perhaps overcome by nerves in the opening match against Kenya, when he did not bowl well. He was immediately dropped without a chance to recover, and only had two further matches: he bowled quite well to take two wickets against England but was not successful against Pakistan. This loss of form continued into the 1999/2000 Zimbabwean season, when he was dropped from the Test team and did not play any international matches against the touring Australians. He played in the two Tests against South Africa, taking two wickets in each, but was dropped for the Sri Lanka series.

His in-out selection continued, with an unsuccessful Test in the West Indies and two moderate ones in England, where he was not quite quick enough to be effective. Overall, though, he did well in England, finishing fourth in the national bowling averages with 30 wickets at 14 each. His best performance was on a very green pitch at Headingley where he took ten cheap wickets against Yorkshire. He feels he learned quite a bit, but wishes he had done better in the Test matches.

He has done his best work in the past as the ideal foil to the opening attack of Heath Streak and Henry Olonga, and it seemed to handicap him personally when one or other was injured almost throughout the 1999/2000 season. "That's the ideal sort of scenario when you have both of them bowling well, and when I come on to bowl people see it as a chance to get runs or face an easier bowler, as it were," he says. "They see my job as just to stop them scoring, and because I do, they look to go after me and they'll get out. When one of them [Streak or Olonga] is not playing, then the pressure is on me to do both jobs, at the start or in the middle. That's double the amount of pressure - which isn't an excuse, because I'm not looking to do the job only when they're playing, but to it all the time. This is what I'm trying to rectify, by getting a bit quicker and keep the same measure of control."

Pommie has now not played in international cricket for over a year. He proved economical in the home Tests against New Zealand in 2000/01, but did not do so well in the one-day series in Sharjah that followed. He has not been selected for international cricket since then. "It became obvious that the selectors were looking for people who bowled quicker, certainly in the Test arena, trying to get a bit more penetration," he says. "As you know, I'm not quick at all - pretty much a line-and-length bowler - and I think they felt I was not effective on the pretty docile wickets we play on most of the time in the Indian sub-continent, which is where we play a lot, and sometimes here at home. I've had to go away and work at getting some more pace - I haven't lost anything I had, so I still feel all right. Maybe one day the call will come again and I'll be back right there."

Pommie admits he may not be bowling as well as he has done in the past. "I feel that at the time I was dropped, I probably wasn't bowling as well as I ever did, but it certainly wasn't the worst I had ever bowled. I don't think there was any real justification for dropping me except to try other guys who they thought might do better. I'm trying to get better, trying to get more pace, trying to work the ball a bit more."

He hasn't gone overboard in looking for new types of delivery to bowl. "Consistency is the most important thing, and it's something I try to make sure I keep. In trying to develop different deliveries, there is always the danger of losing focus on the job you would be required to do. When I turn up to play in a game, unless I was five yards quicker, my job would be to keep the opposition quiet so they play rash shots and get out. I just try to swing the ball out like I normally do."

His appearances in one-day cricket were rare, and his predictability and lack of pace have made him expensive at times. Pommie feels, though, that he cannot learn the job unless he is picked more regularly. "It's fair enough for people to say I'm battling [in one-day cricket]," he says. "But if you look at the number of games I've actually played, and how spaced out they are, I can turn round and say, `Fair enough, I've had a few chances but one game here and there doesn't constitute too much of a chance.' I played one game here against New Zealand and didn't bowl too well. I thought I could come out of the Test and bowl okay, but things didn't go well on the day and I didn't get it together; it's just one of those things. But there are a lot of guys on the sidelines waiting to play, and if one of the team doesn't do well you've got to give one of them a chance."

Asked if he found it difficult to adjust to one-day cricket, Pommie replied, "When you go into a one-day game you've been practising to play a one-day game; you don't just go into it out of nowhere. So the excuse that I couldn't adjust doesn't come into it, because I've been practising and thinking, `I'm going to bowl this line and this length to these batters.' There's a whole plan before we actually go out and bowled, so if I was to turn round and say, `I don't think I was quite ready for it,' would be a lame excuse."

On varying approaches to the different forms of the game, he says, "It's just the margin for error. The margin for error in a one-day game is much less, because you know the batters are going after you. In a Test match they don't really look to go after me except when they need to pick it up, which they never really do, so they play each ball on its merits. In a one-day game they go after it and see what happens. If they get away with it, they do, and if they don't you come off the winner. In my case, more often than not they get away with it."

By way of compensation Pommie was appointed captain of Matabeleland that season, and later the Zimbabwe Board XI and Zimbabwe A team. "It makes me want to play better," he says. "Your mind is more on the game that when you're not captain - not to say that you don't think about the game when you're not captain, but there are a whole lot of other things you have to think about as well. The team doing well or badly has so much more effect on you than when you're just one of the players."

Pommie appears to be a quiet, laid-back chap whom one would not readily think of as a captain. Yet he can be strong and firm when needed, and Alistair Campbell for one speaks highly of his leadership ability. "Here and there I try to do things that I think would work out but a lot of thanks should go to the guys who are senior in the Board XI side," he says, paying tribute to the likes of Campbell, Guy Whittall and Gavin Rennie for their advice, which he seeks out readily.

During his enforced layoff at the hands of the selectors in the extended 2000/01 season, Pommie was invited to join the team of television commentators for Zimbabwe's winter Test matches, and his quiet thoughtful views were appreciated - although he would have preferred to be playing.

Pommie's ambition is to keep improving and to come closer to a regular Test place. He has been working more on his batting recently, concentrating on watching the ball more carefully and gaining in confidence -- but without any real evidence to prove it yet! The best batsmen he has bowled against in his brief career so far have been the Pakistanis Shahid Afridi, with his unorthodox hitting, and Saeed Anwar.

In his efforts to improve, he has found all his Zimbabwean team-mates positive and helpful, with Dave Houghton particularly encouraging. He has had a great deal of discussion with and advice from the senior bowlers, Streak, Brandes and Olonga. He finds them willing to share their knowledge and what they are trying to achieve, instead of leaving him to work things out for himself.

They in turn speak well of Pommie's positive personality and his dedication, although the general feeling is that he is just a little too slow to make the best possible use of his ability. It is to be hoped that the national selectors will appreciate him a little more and that they too will make the best possible use of his ability.